Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Sullivan: Question of keeping joint powers authority has been put to rest

A consultant's assessment report on the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority was discussed during a public hearing Tuesday, with a mixed response from board members and the public.

The assurance that the Solid Waste Authority is the most appropriate entity for the job was worth the $33,000 that the agency will pay to R3 Consulting Group for an assessment, according to some authority board members.

"It finally does lay to bed the question about what happens to the (joint powers authority). Almost every option says keep the JPA," said Mike Sullivan, Del Norte County supervisor and authority board member. "It was worth that money to put that to rest."

County resident Patricia Black disagreed that the money was worth it, saying, "As a fiscally conservative person, I am still frustrated that we spent over $33,000 for R3 to tell us old news. I expected them to do a real cost-benefit analysis balancing the positive and negative consequences for taxpayers, ratepayers and the community as a whole."

Some commenters said that the majority of the community would like to keep the agency the way that it is.

"I've been to three or four of these meetings and overwhelmingly the opinion of the public has been to keep things the way that they are," said county resident Jon Parmentier.

"I do not agree that the majority of the population is overly enthusiastic with Solid Waste and its past performance; 28 people do not make up the majority of the community," Sullivan said.

"It's kind of ironic to me that people are upset that we spent $30,000 on a consultant but nobody is unhappy that $29,000 went missing. That's your money. Whether it's tax money or it's coming out of your pocket as a consumer, $29,000 missing is not OK," Sullivan said, referring to the discovery of missing authority funds last summer, which he said was the main reason a consultant was hired, calling it "the straw that broke the camel's back."

"And that's all that we know is missing, because the authority prior to 2009 shredded their records. There could be more than $29,000 missing," Sullivan said. "There is no smoking gun that I'm aware of, and I would like the chair to get the sheriff's report released."

The Triplicate's request for the investigative report into the missing funds, which was completed in January, was denied last week.

R3's report also advises that the authority board needs to come up with medium- and long-term goals and objectives for the authority, which Sullivan said should happen in a separate strategic planning session. The debate would likely focus on whether the high level of trash and recycling services is worth the cost.

"I have a view that Solid Waste is a utility, it's not a social change agent. You have to pay for those extra things. I'm not comfortable laying that on the business owners of this community to pay for social changes," Sullivan said, referring to the authority board's decisions in 2008 and 2009 to have price increases fall more heavily on commercial rather than residential consumers.

Sullivan added that "Del Norte County is not a rich area. This isn't Marin. This isn't Santa Clarita. This isn't an area where you have business owners that have that disposable income just to put into work to pay for everyone else's changes."

One of those burdened business owners is Mary Wilson, the public member of the authority board, who explained how when the new franchise contracts went into effect in 2011, the garbage bill for her business, Ocean World, increased from $400 to $900, drawing Wilson into Solid Waste Authority issues.

"The reason I'm involved is that the cost to businesses have gone up astronomically," Wilson said. "The Apple Peddler, right next door to me, their bill went from $900 to $1,900 a month. Stop and think about how many hamburgers they have to sell just to pay for the garbage bill."

"What do we want this agency to look like?" Wilson asked, adding that the authority could either continue to put "burden on businesses," employ "cutting edge" programs "or should we have something more reasonable" so the average citizen has a place to take their trash for a rate low enough to deter illegal dumping, Wilson said.

Wilson said that although the agency is very effective, the report does not say it is the most efficient.

"They state here that it provides a high level of services - it's not the most efficient. It's very effective, but it's not the most efficient," Wilson said. "If you want to stay at the Hyatt as opposed to staying at Motel 6, that's your choice. If that's your goal, it works well for that."

Many people speaking during public comment voiced concerns about the report recommending the elimination of some authority positions or outsourcing others to the private sector.

County resident Elizabeth Henry, who served on a solid waste authority board in Mendocino County as a county supervisor, lamented that the scrutiny of the authority has put other authority programs on hold.

"The mandatory commercial recycling program is dormant," Henry said. "I believe where the public money should be spent now and in the future is implementing new programs that reduce waste by source reduction, recycling and composting and not on producing more studies, which I think is the direction where the consultants were heading."

County resident Ralph Johansen questioned the motives behind the scrutiny.

"Your task here is self-assigned. There doesn't seem to be any complaint from the ratepayers, and that raises the question in my mind if there is another agenda, and I think that should be examined and that should be discovered if it exists," Johansen said.

County resident Victoria Dickey said that it's not true that there is no complaint from ratepayers and that she has heard of young families just starting out who balk at garbage collection rates.

R3 will create a final report based on the comments submitted by the public and board members.

The next meeting of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority board will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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