City Aims to Close Refuse Fund Deficit

Photo: The city of Berkeley is struggling to decide how best to close a $1.2 million deficit in refuse funding following a report released Tuesday.
Jeff Joh/Staff
The city of Berkeley is struggling to decide how best to close a $1.2 million deficit in refuse funding following a report released Tuesday.

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Refuse Fund Deficit

Andrew David King talks in depth about how the city plans to deal with the large deficit the refuse fund has piled up.

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While the Berkeley City Council has already reduced what was a towering $4 million deficit in the city's refuse fund at the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year, a report released Tuesday outlining how the city might close the remaining $1.2 million gap has failed to persuade some council members.

In July, the city entered into a $84,000 contract with Irvine-based consulting firm Sloan Vazquez to evaluate the city's revenue and efficacy in spending with regard to its refuse fund, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. The firm's findings and subsequent recommendations include outsourcing the processing of recycled materials to third parties, terminating the city-funded Ecology Center, conducting audits to ensure that all city services are paid for, eliminating discounts for food waste disposal and reducing the number of workers.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he found issues with the methodology and implications of the consulting firm's study.

"If we spent that much money and we got a comprehensive study that was coordinated with our financial situation and which offered realistic solutions, that would be great," he said. "But you get a study that says, 'You're broke, and all you need to do is go spend $7 million and everything will be great.' And if we had the $7 million, I'd be happy to spend it, but we don't."

Despite feeling that the report glossed over the complexities of altering city services, Worthington said he agreed with the report's suggestion - which he claimed he put forth several times in past years - that the city's now-separate collection services for trash, recycling and green and food waste be consolidated. But he added that making changes to pre-existing services is the answer, and that there is no need to extradite services to commercial operations.

Worthington said he filed a request with the city manager to obtain an itemized list of the data used in the consulting firm's calculations, which he plans on distributing to the city's Zero Waste Commission for its meeting Friday.

On March 22, 2005, the council approved a resolution stating its commitment to meet the specifications of Alameda County Measure D, which in 2000 instituted a county goal of reducing waste by 75 percent by the end of 2010.

A report published by the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board in conjunction with the Alameda County Waste Management Authority in August included statistics that indicated Berkeley achieved an 8 percent diversion of possible recyclables from 2000 to 2006, though it did not include information on the city's progress in recent years.

According to the county report, Albany also managed to reduce its waste by 8 percent within the same time frame, while Emeryville reached a 27 percent reduction.

However, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he is concerned about how the city will earn revenue from the refuse fund while simultaneously decreasing waste.

"We have a business model where basically the city's efforts have been aimed at decreasing trash, but our revenue is based on how much trash we collect," he said.

The council will discuss the firm's report at a work session March 8.


Contact Andrew David King at [email protected]

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