OAKLEY -- Residential garbage collection here will become more expensive next year, and the double-digit hike is making some Oakley ratepayers wince.
The City Council on Tuesday approved Oakley Disposal Services' application to raise its prices by 16.6 percent starting Jan. 1, a move the business attributes in part to a growing number of customers who are opting to use smaller garbage bins at a reduced price.
The rate hike will range from $4.15 to $6.55 per month, the first change since the family-owned business signed a contract with the city in 2010.
Finance Director Paul Abelson acknowledged that the size of the increase is "uncomfortable," and a few residents protested Oakley Disposal's proposal during the public hearing that preceded the vote.
During this economic crunch when many people are choosing smaller garbage bins in an effort to make ends meet, the company's move to increase rates reflects an indifference that's tantamount to saying "let them eat cake," said George Fuller.
Douglas Tokes criticized Oakley Disposal's decision to issue monthly bills instead of once every 90 days, which he maintained is costing the company more. He also suggested the city solicit bids from other providers to try and get residents a better deal.
"A little competition is good in this world," he said.
Sandra Showaker, who said she is single and disabled, asked Oakley Disposal Services to accommodate lower-income customers like her by giving them the choice to have their garbage collected twice a month or even just once, particularly given that residents who use their recycling bins produce less trash.
"I'd like some help. I'm in a terrible circumstance," she said.
Even those like Norm Myers who aren't on a strict budget didn't like getting monthly bills for a service they don't use very often.
Producing his bill for $24.95, Myers noted that he didn't have any garbage to collect when the truck came by his street on Monday.
As retirees, he and his wife should be able to discontinue their garbage service temporarily when they take an extended trip in their RV or go on a cruise, he said.
Dave Adler, the regional manager for Oakley Disposal Services, said the weekly pickups are required by city ordinance and added that no municipality in the county allows residents to have their garbage collected just once a month.
Following the meeting, however, Adler also noted that his company permits ratepayers to suspend service up to three times a year.
He also pointed out during the public debate that state law requires cities to recycle half of their solid waste that otherwise would end up in landfills, a bar that will be raised to 75 percent by 2020.
As such, Oakley Disposal Services is helping the city comply by giving residents not only a trash bin but one for recyclables and a third for yard waste.
As for billing residents each month, that was something ratepayers said they wanted so they wouldn't have to pay as much each time, Adler said.
Council members weren't unsympathetic to the complaints about having to pay for garbage pickup regardless of whether it's needed.
The city always could change its ordinance to allow collections every other week just as it already does for green waste, said Councilman Randy Pope.
"It's a really bad time to be asking to raise rates. It almost seems like the proposal is punishing those who recycle," he said.
Perhaps the company could raise rates just on those who continue using the large trash bins, said Pope, who also suggested it give discounts to those who opt for paperless billing or pay for several months' worth of service up front.
But Councilman Jim Frazier and Mayor Kevin Romick pointed out that businesses have unavoidable overheads -- fuel, salaries and benefits, for example -- that are only going up.
"Even though your take-home pay might remain stagnant, other costs continue to rise," Romick said.
What's more, the money it takes to have a garbage truck service a neighborhood is the same whether it skips a few homes or not, City Manager Bryan Montgomery said.
Council members Pat Anderson and Carol Rios agreed that in the future they'd like Oakley Disposal Services to raise its rates in smaller increments to make them more palatable to residents. Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.
The 16.6 percent raise in residential garbage collection rates that Oakley residents will see in January translates into the following changes in their monthly bill: