Berkeley Garbage Collection Fees May Rise to Balance Costs

Budget Office Report Calls For Rate Increases In Response to Refuse Fund's Budget Shortfall

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To offset rising costs associated with waste disposal services, Berkeley's budget office is proposing an increase in the city-wide garbage collection fee.

The city's Refuse Fund, which supports all waste collection and disposal programs, is facing a significant budget shortfall, according to a Dec. 8 report from the city's budget office.

The fund is projected to be in a $860,000 deficit by the end of June.

In order to maintain current waste services, the collection fee-included in property tax bills-needs to increase by about 15 to 20 percent, the report said.

The deficit is a result of increased costs for landfill contracts and the creation of new waste disposal programs without accompanying fee increases.

The fund is further strained by higher service charges requested by the Ecology Center and the Community Conservation Center, two non-profits that work together to provide the city's recycling services.

In October, the demand for recycled paper from major purchasers in Asia plummeted with the economic downturn, said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center.

Recycled paper that once sold for $200 a ton dropped to as low as $10 a ton, Bourque said. While the current market price is about $35 a ton, the dip in revenue means the non-profits will need to raise their service charge.

"Our cost to the city will go up as a result of not having that income stream," Bourque said.

Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city's spokesperson, said the city's budget office is currently conducting a comprehensive study on the costs the fund must cover.

At a council information workshop on Feb. 17, city staff will present the fund's budget status and discuss the fee increase, Clunies-Ross said. City staff will recommend a specific amount for the fee increase to the council in March.

UC Berkeley junior Irene Seliverstov, lead coordinator for the Building Sustainability at Cal student group, said the potential fee increase might encourage people to buy products with less packaging.

"A fee raise isn't the most pleasant. Of course I would prefer to pay less for a service," she said. "On the other side, I think it's important people think about how much trash we generate."


Carol Yur covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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