City of Berkeley increases garbage-collection fees

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Berkeley residents will soon face a sharp increase in waste collection fees as the city attempts to decrease its budgetary deficit.

On Feb 25, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously in favor of a 24.7 percent increase — which translates to an additional $7.32 for a medium-sized bin — in the cost of residential waste collection and a 2.5 percent increase for the cost of commercial waste collection, to take effect July 1. The increase aims to correct a projected $3 million deficit for 2015 brought on by an increase in Berkeley residents’ use of the city’s recycling and composting services.

Like many other cities in the Bay Area, Berkeley does not charge for recycling and composting services in hopes of encouraging sustainable waste disposal. However, city spokesperson Matthai Chakko explained that this service is not free for the city, thus contributing to the deficit and necessitating the new garbage fee.

The city of Berkeley hopes to ultimately divert 75 percent of all waste away from landfills, according to the Department of Public Works. In line with this initiative, the city provides three different waste pickup services — garbage, recycling and composting — the cost of which Councilmember Gordon Wozniak says has provoked the fee increase.

“The general cost has increased because we were providing these services basically for free,” Wozniak said. “The city is trying to transition to a more sustainable structure.”

In addition to paying off the city’s debt, the money from the fee increase will be put toward necessary repairs on the Transfer Station — a site that accepts garbage, large debris, recyclables and natural waste — and other renovations.

A portion of the funds will also go toward launching an educational campaign to encourage recycling, a motion Mayor Tom Bates said at the meeting is necessary if the city is to reduce its waste production.

According to Wozniak, the response from Berkeley residents has been minimal, but he expects to receive more questions when official notices are sent out to residences March 28. A public hearing will be held May 20 to allow Berkeley residents to voice their concerns, after which the council will officially adopt the increase if there is no majority protest.

Some council members suggested minor changes to the proposal at the meeting, such as a clause that would allocate a portion of the funds to larger projects down the road, as opposed to incremental improvements, but City Manager Christine Daniel said at the meeting that the city must “get the boat afloat in 2015” before they can begin to justify such projects.

“We’re going to be looking into the future, but we also have this deficit, and we have to do something about it,” Wozniak said.

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.