By Debra Moore
Some Plumas County residents will have to wait until next month to see if their garbage rates increase. Following a lengthy discussion Dec. 21, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors continued the public hearing on the subject until Jan. 18, 2022.
It appeared that the supervisors were poised to adopt the garbage rate increase, believing that they were contractually obligated to do so, despite expressing extreme dissatisfaction with Feather River Disposal/Waste Management for the service it provided to the western portion of Plumas County during the Dixie Fire.
If granted, a 7.29 percent increase would impact customers served by Feather River Disposal — but not those in the Chester Public Utilities District, nor the Quincy Community Services District, because those entities have separate contracts with the solid waste company. Nor would the fee increase impact those who use the transfer stations — the Board of Supervisors approved those fee increases this past summer. This also does not impact the customers of Intermountain Disposal, which services Eastern Plumas County.
The increase was composed of three parts: the settlement of a lawsuit for failure to grant an increase in 2015-16; the guaranteed rate of return in the contract; and a refuse rate increase. Since the supervisors had already been sued once for not granting the guaranteed rate increase as prescribed by the contract, they were reluctant to do so again. Each year the solid waste provider can submit documentation to justify a rate increase, which is reviewed by a consultant and then provided to the county to adopt, if it meets the criteria.
“The timing of this is very poor,” District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood said. “We may be contractually obligated to do this, but it is going to leave a really bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”
He continued, “In talking to my constituents, the service has been crap; this is not the time to come ask for a raise … There needs to be measurable improvements to the service for my constituents and all those of the county.”
District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss agreed. “I concur 100 percent,” he said, citing several weeks of non-pickup as an example of poor service. “Those folks were charged and promised a refund or credit, and there has been none.” Goss said he understood that the board was contractually obligated to a legal process, but something needed to be done.
Board chairman Jeff Engel said that he understands that a business can struggle to provide service if employees don’t show up for work, (one of the issues cited), but “there has to be a backup plan. I don’t care where you have to pull people from.”
Hagwood said that “given the immense resources that Waste Management possesses” there was no excuse that individuals weren’t brought in from outside the area. He said he tried to reach out to the company’s management and never got a call back, and the information shared locally was “patently false.” In addition to the lack of service during the Dixie Fire, Hagwood discussed the “stark differences between what Waste Management offers here to what is offered in Reno,” especially for senior citizens.
Despite the issues, Hagwood repeated, “I know we have a legal obligation to avoid litigation.”
“Are we obligated to approve this increase today, or can we wait 90 days to see if they improve their service?” asked District 3 Supervisor Sherrie Thrall. She said that she couldn’t support an increase, thus rewarding such poor service. “It goes against everything I believe in,” she said, adding that when you’ve got “garbage rotting and stinking, it’s a public health crisis.”
County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr reminded the supervisors that the increases aren’t tied to performance. “We are contractually obligated,” she said. The public had a chance to object, she added. The county sent out 2,744 notices as required by Prop. 18, but only a quarter of 1 percent of what was needed to object and halt the increase, was received.
As the board was moving into the final phase of the hearing — to vote on the increase — Sheriff Todd Johns weighed in on the topic.
“The fact that Waste Management would approach this subject is insulting on a level I have never seen,” he said. “During a time when our towns were burning down, we were creating our own disaster within a disaster,” he said of the garbage that was piling up.
“I am not talking several phone calls; I am talking several hundred phone calls,” Johns said of his attempts to talk to the company. He said he even lifted mandatory evacuation orders so Waste Management could come in and collect trash and “then they still wouldn’t come in and pick up trash. I can’t sit here and not state what happened.”
Planning Director Tracey Ferguson, who was attending the hearing, asked if just a portion of the increase could be granted.
County Counsel Stuhr said that the board could deny the request in whole or part, but it could result in litigation.
District 1 Supervisor Dwight Ceresola said that if customers were entitled to a discount then it should be granted.
Public Works Director John Mannle, who presented the rate increase to the board, said he would direct Waste Management to provide a report on refunds, as well as provide assurances that transfer stations will be back on normal schedules per the original agreement.
Feather River Disposal/Waste Management was represented at the public hearing by Joe Cadelag, who after making some initial remarks about changes in leadership in the company, didn’t respond to the comments.
The public hearing was continued to Jan. 18 when the supervisors will discuss the issue again.
The proposed fee schedule can be viewed here