Garbage collection comes at a price: Analysis offers insight into what single-family homeowners would pay

An analysis released Tuesday indicates that owners of single-family homes in San Diego would pay between $23 and $29 a month for garbage service if city voters approved a November ballot measure ending free garbage collection for those clients.

But monthly bills would almost certainly be a bit higher than that range because the analysis, which was conducted by the city’s independent budget analyst, does not take into account increased service levels such as free trash cans and more frequent recycling collections.

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The ballot measure would guarantee free trash cans, which the city does not currently provide, and new state mandates require the city to expand green waste service to all households and pick up recycling once a week instead. once every two weeks.

The IBA’s analysis, which will appear in election materials sent to voters as the “fiscal impact analysis” of the ballot measure, does not estimate the impact of these increased service levels on monthly bills.

The analysis indicates that the $23 to $29 range is based on the city’s forecast to spend $79.2 million on garbage services in the fiscal year that began July 1, which would mean annual bills of $278 for each of the 285,000 single-family homes that receive the free service.

That $278 divided by 12 months would mean monthly bills of just over $23. The IBA’s analysis says it only includes the costs of services the city “currently provides” and “potential costs of billing and collecting fee revenue”.

The IBA notes that the $23 to $29 range is “similar to fees charged by other peer cities that offer similar services.” This references a previous IBA analysis that found other major cities in California where city employees collect trash fees between $19 and $46 per month.

Cities that use private haulers to collect garbage typically charge more, but the ballot wording for the San Diego measure explicitly says the city will continue to use in-house city crews to pick up garbage from single-family homes.

San Diego is the only city in California and the country that offers free trash pickup for single-family homes. The gratuity, which is guaranteed by a 1919 law called People’s Ordinance, does not extend to businesses or residents living in apartments and condos, who must pay private carriers.

Just under 53% of households in the city benefit from the free service.

The $23 to $29 estimate for monthly bills also fails to account for the possibility that city officials choose to charge less than the city spends on the service, which council chairman Sean Elo- Rivera, called it an option.

If voters eliminated free garbage pickup, the city’s general fund would have an additional $58.7 million a year to spend on parks, libraries, firefighting, law enforcement and public health. other essential services. The remaining $20 million the city spends annually on trash comes from its recycling fund.

Elo-Rivera said city officials may decide it’s okay to collect only a portion of what the city spends, not all of it, because even a portion would mean millions more for vital services.

The estimated $23-$29 monthly bills might not apply to low-income families and other difficult cases. Elo-Rivera, who led the efforts behind the ballot measure, promised grants for them.

The city would use money from the general fund to help some low-income customers pay their bills. State law prohibits the city from raising funds for the grants by charging higher-income residents more.

It’s also important to note that no fees would be applied for at least two years after the ballot measure was approved, as state law requires the city to thoroughly study how much it spends to provide the service. before you can start charging fees.

The IBA says the analysis, called a cost-of-service study, would be done by a consultant selected through a competitive bidding process and would cost the city about $1 million.

“The cost of service study would ultimately determine the charges that could be levied and take into account current costs as well as potential service level improvements or other changes,” the IBA analysis states. . “The study would also determine a fee structure, as well as how low-income or other discount programs, if any, would be structured.”

The IBA notes that the monthly estimate of $23 to $29 does not predict the impact inflation would have on monthly bills, but the fact that the charge would not be applied for more than two years means that the charge could increase with inflation during this period. .

Some proponents of the ballot measure say it’s too early to estimate monthly bills, because the ballot measure only asks the city to study possible charges, not implement a fee. The IBA disagrees.

“While fees are yet to be determined, and while this measure does not impose a fee, it is reasonable to assume that at some point, residents currently receiving solid waste management services from the city will be charge a fee,” the IBA analysis says.

Former City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who is leading opposition to the ballot measure, called the estimate “weak bullet” and said the city would have the power to raise the fee without any additional public votes. .

“I guarantee you that in five years people will be paying a lot more than that estimate,” DeMaio said.

The ballot measure, which will appear as Measure B on the November ballot, would require approval by a simple majority of voters.

Three other municipal ballot measures also received letters.

A proposal to lift the height limit on buildings near the city’s sports arena will be Measure C, a proposal to remove a city ban on union-friendly project work agreements will be Measure D, and a proposal to change city rules to allow daycare in public. the parks will be Measure H.

Eleanor C. William