The County has announced that it intends to raise our garbage collection rates. Information about the rate increases and how to comment on them are at the SacGreenTeam web site. In it's announcement - and to its credit - the County says it hasn't raised rates since 2010, though inflation has increased 30 percent. And the County says "new services" (you can't be sure what they are or how much they cost unless you read a complicated analysis - click on "Rate Study") have been added. So that's why the rates will increase by 57% come February 2021 and 84% as of July 2024. Obviously those kinds of rate hikes will hurt many people.
There are some sneaky parts of Sac County's announcement, though. For one thing, it only compares rates with the City of Sacramento and the City of Folsom, making the County's new rate look sort of reasonable. Except you don't know the rates in the other cities in the region. That matters because the new cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova have been able to either deliver better service less expensively or increase service levels for the same or lower costs than the County used to charge for equivalent services. You see, cities do not have to play along with the County for refuse collection services. Instead, they get to put the job out for bid and let competition do its wonders. Arden Arcade could do that, too, but only if it was a city. Since it's not, our community is at the mercy of the County's monopoly.
In another bit of sleight of hand, the County's "How Your Rates Compare" chart only uses the Feb. 2021 rate. The nearly-doubled-by-July-2024 rate isn't compared. With that much of an increase, one can sort of understand why the County would want to shout about it. Still, the PR announcement is kind of misleading, isn't it?
Yes, there is an opportunity for the public to object, but the deck is stacked in favor of the rate increase. The County will accept protests about the rate increases at a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors' meeting on December 8th at 2:00. Yet here are the kickers: 1) protests have to be written, 2) protests have to be received before 2:00pm on December 8th and 3) more than half of all customers have to object. The first two are inconvenient - Covid-19, complications of technology, potential postal delays, etc. - and a bit undemocratic in that no oral protests are allowed (unless you phone in during the hearing - good luck with that) and comments have to be made by individuals, not groups. The third problem is the big one, though. It is totally unrealistic that the rates will be approved unless some 300,000 or more customer protests are lodged. What are the chances of that?
Those rules aren't the malicious work of the County, they are the letter of the law under Proposition 218, which stipulates how local governments can set utility rates. However, the County seems to be gaming those rules to minimize public knowledge (confusing and fine print and hard-to-find data) and, because the rates decision will be made during the holidays, which challenges people to find time in their schedules during a very busy time of the year. It's easy to conclude that the rates will go up, and sharply. That situation will continue to infinity unless our community gains the right to set rates ourselves by becoming a city. Whether or not that happens is up to local residents.