City Re-evaluates Strategy To Fill Refuse Fund Deficit

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After inciting the anger of several players in the city's refuse collection scene with a proposal to terminate the city's contract with the Ecology Center earlier this month, the Berkeley City Council held an additional work session Tuesday to discuss alternative ways to close a remaining $1.2 million deficit in the city's refuse fund for this fiscal year.

A report issued by consulting firm Sloan Vazquez on Feb. 22 recommends several cost-cutting measures to reduce operating costs and increase efficiency within the city's Solid Waste Management Division - including the consolidation of the Ecology Center's residential recycling program into the division. At a work session March 8, debate ensued between union workers, environmental activists and concerned residents who said that they had not been adequately involved in the negotiation process.

In addition to working toward lowering the Ecology Center's operational costs instead of ending its contract, Tuesday's discussion focused on finding other ways to balance the fund, such as moving container processing off-site of the Community Conservation Center in Northwest Berkeley, switching half of all commercial and residential routes from two- to one-person vehicles, eliminating vacant positions and renegotiating disposal and landfill contracts.

"We've had discussions with the Ecology Center, we're in discussions with the (Community Conservation Center)," said Andrew Clough, deputy director of the city's Department of Public Works.

City Manager Phil Kamlarz explained at the meeting that implementing a 4 percent rate increase in monthly charges for the city's recycling services could generate about $956,000 in revenue that would be used to purchase new collection trucks.

Kamlarz said the city would have to borrow money to purchase this new fleet of trucks. Though $2.4 million is available in the equipment replacement fund, this would not cover the costs even when combined with revenue generated from a rate increase, he said.

Many community members who spoke at the work session said Tuesday's discussion was characterized by a tone of greater understanding than the earlier meeting.

"I really like the tone this evening - not unions pitted against unions," said Monica Wilson, international coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives at the Ecology Center.

During public comment, Dan Knapp, founder and co-owner of Urban Ore, a waste management company in West Berkeley, suggested that the city keep its transfer station open longer as a convenience to customers. He said the 4:30 p.m. closing time forces many with trucks to dump waste in streets and on freeway exits or process their waste at stations in other cities.

"We work when the people are working - we're a service industry trying to help people dispose of things in an environmentally OK way, and there's only so many ways you can do it legally," he said. "We could capture more of that business and bring in more income if we just extend the hours."

Councilmember Max Anderson said he was in favor of the suggestion, adding that "most of the time the stuff that doesn't get taken care of ends up on the streets."


Sarah Mohamed covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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