Environmental groups prompt Petaluma to delay garbage deal

Petaluma may extend its agreement with the city's garbage hauler for 15 years in exchange for an extra $750,000 a year toward the general fund and street maintenance.

The council on Monday night was set to possibly act on the proposed agreement with Petaluma Refuse & Recycling, but a last-minute submission by lawyers for environmental groups put the brakes on any decision until next month.

Petaluma Refuse & Recycling is part of the Ratto Group, which through various subsidiaries has the garbage hauling contracts for eight of Sonoma County's nine cities and the unincorporated areas.

The company took over Petaluma's contract from a San Jose hauler in 2005.

In the years since, the city has seen its budget cut by about a third to about $32.5 million, forcing city staff to explore "nontraditional" funding for city services, such as street maintenance, City Manager John Brown said.

When Petaluma Refuse & Recycling sought a contract extension last year, it sparked a complete overhaul of the agreement, which would lock in the company's exclusive hauling agreement with Petaluma and help the city fund critical services.

That required a change in city law to allow non-competitive bidding for such franchise agreements. The existing agreement expires in 2016.

"Been there, done that, don't want to do that again," Mayor David Glass said of the contentious 2005 council struggle to choose a garbage franchisee.

On Monday, a majority of the council appeared happy with the proposed new contract, particularly a $500,000, no-strings-attached annual payment to the city.

Garbage rates would increase about 4 percent on July 1, the first time since 2009. In the future, they would be tied to a consumer-price-index type of industry standard that has averaged around 3 percent annually, the city's consultant said.

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