Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday authorized a temporary contract extension between the county and the company that handles composting operations at the Mecham Road landfill.

The four-month contract extension with Sonoma Compost will save the county Waste Management Agency $30,000 a month following a last-minute change in the agreement.

Originally, the savings were not scheduled to kick in until the Board of Supervisors approved a final contract. But the Petaluma company volunteered to reduce costs immediately, said Susan Klassen, the county's deputy director of public works and transportation.

"This is a good-faith effort on our part," said Pam Davis, a Sonoma Compost representative.

In June, the county appeared to have lost the opportunity to capture at least $120,000 in savings when Klassen, its representative on the 10-member waste agency board, voted against a new five-year contract that was scheduled to take effect this month. That forced the proposed four-month extension in the contract.

Waste agency staff and other board members criticized that holdup, saying the county was off-base in complaints that it had not been given enough time to review a separate lease allowing Sonoma Compost to use part of the landfill for composting operations.

But Board Chairwoman Shirlee Zane rebuked agency staff Tuesday for not bringing the lease up for review at the same time as the contract.

"I think it's unfortunate that a contract came forward in a vacuum to begin with," she said.

Zane said the agency's executive director, Henry Mikus, "has been sitting there through the whole process" since discussions over a new lease and contract began last year.

Mikus is on vacation and could not be reached for comment Tuesday,

Zane and Supervisor David Rabbitt both said media reports that ratepayers would bear the cost of the lost savings were wrong. The extra money will simply support the agency's public education efforts, they said.

"That is a saving for the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, it is not about ratepayers," Zane said.

Rabbitt said: "Obviously the rates are not going to be any different after this contract is implemented."

However, the agency's program manager, Patrick Carter, said the savings would go into a reserve fund that is intended to pay for building a new compost facility and site.

"That is a future savings to ratepayers," Carter said. "The more money we have in our reserve account the less we'll have to raise our rates in the future to pay for those new improvements."

Members of the waste agency board also said the savings offered an opportunity to save ratepayers money.

"If we're saving $30,000 a month, this board member would certainly want to look to see whether we could lower our operating costs and pass our savings on to ratepayers," said Matt Mullan, Windsor town manager.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.