County considers green waste fee hike

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 21, 2013 

— Merced County residents using green trash bins to recycle vegetative waste including such biodegradable items as grass, flowers and hedge clippings, may see a slight cost increase.

Although a final decision needs approval from the Merced County Association of Governments, the increase was supported by a consulting firm hired by the waste management authority to help it meet new state water quality regulations.

Jerry Lawrie, environmental research manager at Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority, said the recommendations satisfy regional air emissions regulations.

Officials from county and city governments met Tuesday to mull over the recommendations and ask questions about the process.

Among the recommendations: gradually increasing the composite tipping fee from the current $10.50 to $32.83 per ton for both landfills and discontinuing composting at the Billy Wright Landfill in Los Banos.

"Because of increased regulations, the authority's position is it's no longer economically viable to operate that facility," said William Schoen from R3 Consulting Group, which was hired to complete the survey.

Instead, the Billy Wright Landfill would ship its green waste to a composting facility in Vernalis.

There won't be a loss of jobs at the Billy Wright Landfill, Lawrie said.

Beginning July 1, 2014, the tipping fee would increase by $7.44 per ton annually over three years, reaching $32.83 by July 2016.Revenue from the rate increase would fund the cost of the facility and equipment upgrades.

Many city leaders at Tuesday's meeting wanted to know how the tipping fee hike would affect residents' wallets.

Although residential rates vary in each jurisdiction, Schoen said, the increase would be roughly 90 cents to $1. It would affect all Merced County residents participating in green waste recycling or those dropping off such waste at the landfill.

Lawrie noted that green waste is the biggest component of the county's total recycling, making up a major chunk of its overall recycling percentage. State law mandates that rate to be at or above 50 percent.

Merced City Manager John Bramble expressed concerns Tuesday, saying city residents already pay the highest rate.

The officials weighed other options, including subsidizing rates or eliminating green waste recycling. Ending the service would involve penalties.

The state could fine the county up to $10,000 a day or take over waste management operations.

Atwater Mayor Joan Faul took a stand against discontinuing the green waste recycling program. She said it's something positive for the city, which has been plagued with financial difficulties, and popular with residents.

"We'd have major problems if we discontinued. It would hurt us," she said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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