State

Lower garbage rates wait for Stanislaus County OK

Home garbage rates in unincorporated parts of Stanislaus County would dip as much as $1.89 per month, if leaders agree Tuesday.

Fees for drop boxes, however, typically used while remodeling, would climb as much as 93 percent under a proposal going before county supervisors.

Small breaks for many while gouging a few wasn't the intent when officials last year decided to rethink their garbage rate methodology, said Sonya Harrigfeld, the county's environmental resources director.

"I think this is simpler for people to understand," she said.

The new formula would stand for five years with annual adjustments based on various cost indexes such as the regional cost of diesel fuel.

If approved Tuesday, residential garbage bills would go down by at least 54 cents after July 1, depending on the area.

"That's not much, but better than nothing," said Dave Talamontes, whose east Oakdale home is served by Gilton Solid Waste, one of four private haulers in unincorporated areas. They're allowed to charge different rates to account for variables like distance to landfills and density of neighborhoods.

Come November, there may be three garbage companies. Two unnamed bidders are vying for the contract now held by Waste Management Inc., which runs trucks on the county's east and west fringes.

Harrigfeld refused to identify the bidders except to say they are local. Three years ago, Bertolotti Disposal and Gilton Solid Waste gained thousands of new Modesto customers when Waste Management let its contract lapse with the city.

"Economic uncertainty" can be blamed for the county's failure to attract more bids, Harrigfeld surmised.

The new methodology lowers customers' "bad debt" burden, or the percentage companies write off when they go unpaid and pass along to ratepayers. The higher percentage proved to be "a disincentive to try to collect what's owed them," Harrigfeld said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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