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Solid Waste Rates Set to Rise

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By Jorge Casuso

June 6, 2023 -- Single-family customers in Santa Monica could see their bi-monthly solid waste bill rise over the next five years -- from about $84 to $141 -- under rate hikes the City Council will take up Tuesday.

Under the 11 percent per year hikes, rates for a four-unit apartment building would go up from about $199 to $363, while those for a 10-unit building would rise from about $263 to $472.

NMS Lincoln Apartments

Commercial buildings would also see 11 percent rate hikes over five years with cost depending on the cubic yard and frequency of collection (see chart below).

The new rates -- which would kick in August 1 -- come after a three-year rate freeze imposed during the coronavirus shutdown that would deplete the Resource Recovery and Recycling Division's (RRR) reserves next year.

The "critical and necessary" utility rate increases will "preserve the City’s ability to provide residents and businesses with reliable and cost effective municipal solid waste management services," according to City staff.

"With the proposed increases, Santa Monica’s solid waste rates for single-family customers are slightly higher than some cities," staff wrote in a report to the Council.

The report, however, notes that the City "also provides more services to its residents at no additional charge, such as year-round recycling events and on-demand door-to-door household hazardous waste collection."

Proposed Solid Waste Rates
Proposed rates of typical solid waste services (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Solid waste utility rates -- which were last increased in 2014 -- primarily fund solid waste collection, recycling, organics recycling, alley cleanup, street sweeping and household hazardous waste collection.

Following the three-year rate-freeze "to avoid imposing additional financial hardships on ratepayers" during the COVID-19 shutdown, RRR was forced to rely on "spending down reserves in its enterprise fund."

The reserves have sustained "a $37 million sanitation operation with 93.9 full-time-equivalent (FTE) essential workers who collected over 176 million pounds of organics, recyclables, and landfill trash in Fiscal Year 2022-2023."

Meanwhile costs have escalated due to inflation, community needs have increased and the State has boosted its regulatory compliance, according to staff.

"Barring any unforeseen circumstances, over time, RRR Fund reserves are projected to be restored to an industry best practice standard of a minimum 90-days of operating expenditures," staff said.

While single-family customers would pay higher rates than those in some other cities, Santa Monica's multi-family and commercial rates are among the lowest in Los Angeles County, according to staff.

That's because Santa Monica is only one of three LA County cities, along with Culver City and Claremont, that runs its solid waste management operation rather than contracting it out, staff said.

"Besides cost effectiveness, having full, local control of a municipal operation means RRR maintains the flexibility in its service offerings and the ability to set priorities that are important to the community," staff wrote.

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