Supervisors set to debate fee increase related to organic waste

·3 min read

Jan. 23—The Kern County Board of Supervisors could approve large increases to fees associated with garbage at its meeting on Tuesday. If adopted, Kern County landowners and commercial haulers would collectively pay millions of dollars more each year for trash disposal.

The county's Public Works Department says the fee increases are necessary to pay for the drastic overhaul of the local waste management system. A new state law, SB 1383, requires counties to reduce organic waste in landfills by 75 percent in 2025 when compared with 2014.

That means the county has to find a way to compost biodegradable waste such as food. According to the CalRecycle, organic waste rotting in landfills is responsible for 20 percent of all of the state's annual methane emissions. Methane is 84 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years, according to the state, making its reduction a priority.

But bringing Kern County into compliance with the law will lead to high fee increases for local landowners. Under Public Works' proposal, the land use fees for residential units is set to increase 71 percent, bringing up the cost for owners of one to four residential units from $105 to $180, with a similar increase for owners of five or more units.

The Public Works Department is also proposing increasing gate and bin fees charged to commercial haulers by 44 percent.

The fee increases are expected to generate $29.9 million and $52.7 million each year. The county plans to build multiple new facilities for organic waste, including a $20 million compost plant in the Shafter-Wasco area along with a $30 million food and green waste facility.

Still, the high cost associated with the projects has elicited some high-profile detractors. Supervisors were slated to approve the fee increases earlier this month, but delayed the vote after former Bakersfield Solid Waste Director Kevin Barnes and retired Kern County Public Works civil engineer Nancy Ewert spoke out against the proposal in a last-minute attempt to prevent the higher fees.

Both contended existing facilities could be used to offset some of the county's anticipated composting needs. They each said only 18 percent of the county's composting facilities were utilized.

"I hope everybody can be careful that we don't raise our constituent fees to pay for something that we might not really, really have to do," Barnes said during the Jan. 4 meeting. "Yes, I agree program costs are there. I would endorse that, but I'm just cautioning on the capital to build additional facilities might not be that necessary."

In a rebuttal to Barnes and Ewert's statements provided on the upcoming meeting's agenda, the Public Works Department said the full utilization of existing facilities had been considered and dismissed by county staff prior to the drafting of the department's proposal.

"Permitted capacity does not equate with operational capacity and the associated costs for the use of each of the facilities has been reviewed by staff and it was determined that (the) most cost-effective method to handle organics is through the installation of the compost facility at the Shafter-Wasco Recycling and Sanitary Landfill," Public Works Director Craig Pope wrote in a memorandum included on the agenda.

The county informed impacted landowners of the fee increase and about 0.1 percent filed written protests.

Supervisors are set to take up the issue during the afternoon meeting.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.