Cal-Waste may get OK for long-term exclusive trash deal

Calaveras County Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen is questioning a proposal to award a no-bid contract for trash hauling to Cal-Waste Recovery Systems of Galt.

“My concern overall is that there was no bidding process,” Callen said. “This is a single-sourced contract that did not go out to bid. There is a lack of competition related to this contract.”

The contract is on the agenda for the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors meeting that begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The contract grants Cal-Waste a 10-year exclusive contract with two five-year extensions possible.

Public Works Director Jeff Crovitz, who negotiated the contract with Cal-Waste, did not immediately return a phone call Monday morning. But a written report by Crovitz notes that the county’s solid waste operations are required to comply with the terms of a 2013 state order that the county reduce the amount of waste – especially recyclable materials – that end up in the county landfill.

The new contract proposed with Cal-Waste would achieve that, in part, by requiring Cal-Waste to haul all of the residential and commercial waste it collects out of the county. So none of that waste would go to the county’s Rock Creek Landfill.

If approved, the contract would also set new rates for residential and commercial service. Starting Dec. 1, a typical homeowner would pay $22 a month for service that includes weekly collection of a $35-gallong trash can and biweekly collection of a 95-gallon recyclable can and a 65-gallon green waste can.

Residents in winter snow areas above Forest Meadows on Highway 4 would pay the same rate but would not receive a green waste can. Those customers could request a 3.50 cubic-yard container referred to in the contract as a “Handi-Hauler.” That container could be used for a limited volume of pine needle collection.

Only a small minority of county residents, however, use a trash collection service. At the time of the state order in 2013, county officials reported that 73 percent of residents haul their own trash to transfer stations or the landfill. That trash often contains recyclables such as plastic containers or metal cans that state laws target for recycling.

Business operators, too, are unlikely to use trash hauling services. According to the 2013 report, only 28 percent of commercial businesses had recycling services and many commercial enterprises were sending recyclables to the trash.

Self-hauling makes economic sense for many residents. They already pay a $150 per year fee toward the operation of the landfill and the county’s solid-waste transfer stations. For that, residents can now dispose basic residential trash with no additional fee. Solid waste sites do charge gate fees for disposing some kinds of waste, such as appliances or large quantities of pine needles.

But that $150 fee is no longer enough to cover the cost of the landfill and transfer station operations, especially when the long-term costs of closing a landfill site and opening a new one are considered. County elected leaders, fearing voter backlash, have repeatedly declined to raise the solid waste fee.

Callen says that the proposed contract with Cal-Waste just “kicks the can down the road” by finding a temporary solution for the crisis involving the landfill and the unfunded long-term costs.

“I think it is a Band-Aid. But I think there are issues with this Band-Aid,” Callen said of the proposed contract.

In his written report, Crovitz estimated that Cal-Waste would end up providing the county $300,000 to $500,000 a year in revenue, including up to $165,000 a year in cash from recyclables. The contract requires Cal-Waste to return to the county government 90 percent of the value of the recyclables collected in the county

At least one of Callen’s concerns over the contract has been resolved. She said that as it was initially worded, it would have given Cal-Waste exclusive rights to haul waste for businesses. Callen said that after she voiced that concern last week, the language was softened to lift the mandate from businesses.

But Callen said other language in the contract puts the county government on the hook to pay Cal-Waste when customers fail to. The county, then, would end up having to either hire a collection company or put liens on properties in order to collect the unpaid bills.

“Given that they are an enterprise business, they should do collections on their own,” Callen said.

Callen on Thursday made her objections widely known. Among those aware of her concerns is Calaveras County Taxpayers Association President Al Segalla. Segalla said he plans to raise questions about the contract at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We concur with Rebecca that this sort of thing is a 20-year contract and it really needs to be vetted a little bit better,” Segalla said.

Cal-Waste serves customers in parts of Sacramento, San Joaquin, Calaveras and Apline counties. Cal-Waste owner Dave Vaccarezza said in a telephone interview that Crovitz should answer most questions about the contract because it was written largely to address Crovitz’s needs.

But, he said, it is common in the waste-hauling industry to have single-source contracts. He said he knows the region well and has all his equipment here, unlike large national firms that might bid on such a contract.

“Nobody in Houston is going to know the difference between Calaveras and Calabasas,” he said.

According to Crovitz’s report, the contract, if approved, would result in Cal-Waste adding five more employees to the 25 it already has for its Calaveras County operations.

Vaccarreza said he is applying now to get permits for a waste transfer and sorting site his firm hopes to open on property near the intersection of Highway 12 and Highway 26 between Valley Springs and San Andreas.

Meanwhile, Callen said she believes that the contract might be a step in a larger plan to privatize the county’s landfill. She said that residents of counties with privatized landfills pay more to dispose waste.

“We are under a compliance order with regard to reducing the amount of refuse going to our landfill. I don’t think that precludes us from going out and getting a competitive bid,” Callen said. “I also don’t believe that there should be an automatic renewal of this contract.”

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