Council debates Republic Services rate increase

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Waste collection rates will go up in Martinez, but not as much as last year. In 2019, rates increased by 3.84 percent – this while the city was receiving complaints about the service.

During its Oct. 30 session, the City Council Franchise Subcommittee approved a 2020 rate increase of 2.45 percent for waste management company Republic Services.

The most common bins used by residential customers are 32-gallon containers, and customers who use those will see a rate increase of approximately $0.87 per month. The charge for seniors with the same size bin will increase by $0.67.

Commercial rates will also be going up. The cost for the most popular size, the 2-yard container, is expected to increase by $7.83 per month.

In addition to rate talks, the subcommittee was also presented data by Republic Services showing that service has significantly improved in the last year.

Rica Guidry, executive assistant to the city manager, vouched for Republic’s data. According to her, in 2016 the city received about 50 calls claiming a pick-up had been missed. Those calls were from people who had called Republic, sometimes more than once, with no results, and had then escalated their complaints to the city.

In contrast, Guidry said, the city received only seven complaints this year, and no repeat calls from the same address.

Art Mejia, Republic Services general manager for Martinez, said he had instituted stringent changes to assure better service. Those included making sure that all routes are fully staffed and creating a dedicated customer service extension just for Martinez. The company also committed to picking up any missed bins within 24 hours of being told of one, and initiated a follow-up call system to make sure that those bin were picked-up.

City council Subcommittee members Lara DeLaney and Mark Ross commended those efforts.

“I am glad that it (the rate increase) was as modest as it was,” DeLaney said.

Michael Chandler, deputy director of administrative services, said Republic Services had also agreed to an amendment to its contract which required the company to give Martinez quarterly reports on oil spills. Since going into effect in January 2019, that too has improved.

Numerous incidences of oil spills were reported between 2016 and 2018. However, according to Chandler, in the first quarter of this year, there were only two reports of small spills amounting to a total of about three gallons.

Chandler defended the rate increases and the current refuse and recycling collection franchise agreement with Republic Services, which is in effect until 2023. Some other cities have contracts based on the elements of the waste disposal process such as transportation, tipping fees (dump cost), and labor costs. They are so complicated that expensive consultants are often required to negotiate a contract properly.

According to a report by Chandler, the contract between Republic Services and the city of Martinez allows the company to apply for simpler annual rate increases that are tied to the regional cost of living index, with a 4 percent annual cap. Typically adjustments are conducted in three out of four years and are equal to 90 percent of the August-to-August Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Republic submits rate increase, and extraordinary rate adjustment requests in July, and the final application is received on Oct. 18, once the August CPI is confirmed.

Chandler said that the Martinez rate increases appear to be similar or more customer-friendly when compared to surrounding cities. The city’s staff conducted an informal survey of 11 nearby cities to evaluate best practices for interim years adjustments. That report found that five cities allow 100 percent of CPI increase, with no cap. Three cities do not use the same methodology. Instead, they use an analysis of seven cost categories. One city allowed 90 percent of CPI, with a cap and a 2 percent minimum. The last city allowed 85 percent of CPI increase, with a four percent cap and no minimum.

In addition to regular pick-up services, Republic Services supports local schools and non-profit events by helping with waste removal and will provide special Holiday Packaging Collections in January 2020 at local park and school locations.

The Subcommittee’s recommendation will not be official until the city council approves the increase at the Nov. 20 council meeting. It seems likely that it will be approved as it is within the terms of the City’s existing contract with Republic Services.

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