The Sebastopol city council listened to public hearings, discussed possible rate increases for waste collection and introduced the drafted 2022-23 city budget plan at its meeting Tuesday over Zoom. 

The city council voted 4-1, with Councilmember Una Glass absent, that starting July, residents and commercial waste bin users will see an average increase in waste collection rates of about 12.8 percent. 

In 2008, the city council entered into an agreement with Redwood Empire Disposal, a local solid waste collection firm. In 2013, the council approved reassigning the agreement to Recology, a waste management company headquartered in San Francisco.

In November 2021, the city council approved an annual rate adjustment schedule effective July 1, 2022. 

On July 1, the 32-gallon residential garbage bin rate will increase by 12.4 percent, just under $3, and the 4-yard commercial bin will increase 12.8 percent, or just under $68.50. Different sized waste bin collections will also see a similar percentage increase. 

Vice Mayor Neyssa Hinton raised concerns that the ability to pay 12 months up front and the senior discount for waste pickup were removed by Recology with no notice to Sebastopol constituents. She felt that the company was “pulling the rug” out from under residents, and Recology was looking to improve their revenue while not considering how others were also financially struggling. 

“The reason those two programs were removed was because, especially with the annual discount, we found the people who were capable of taking advantage of those programs were people who, in fact, had the money to pay their bill and the people who might need a discount, such as those with low income, were not able to take advantage,” said Nikki Burke, a Recology representative, who added she believed they had informed everyone properly but would follow up on that claim. 

Burke said they had consistently removed that discount but replaced it with the Cares program, provided to anyone with low income who qualifies for PG&E’s CARE program and gives households a 20 percent discount on their Recology bill. This does nothing to replace the senior discount. 

“We are not providing a discount to someone simply due to their age; we are providing a discount to those, who are in fact, low-income,” Burke said. 

Hinton and Councilmember Sarah Glade Gurney both stated their frustration that the cost keeps increasing despite the council and its constituents’ willingness to work to improve waste disposal. The agreement with Recology ends in 2024 when the council hopes to reassess. 

Also, at Tuesday’s meeting, the city council presented Sebastopol’s proposed preliminary operating budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. 

The council knew this would only mark the official beginning of the budget discussion and prepared a draft resolution before the meeting to continue the proceedings at the upcoming July 5 council meeting. The fiscal year for the City of Sebastopol technically starts on July 1 and ends June 30.

The municipal budget serves as a guide for the council to prioritize projects, programs and services and shows how policies are transformed into daily operations. Moreover, it primarily serves as a plan for how Sebastopol will spend money to operate and maintain the city. 

The presentation of this preliminary draft allows the council and community to review the proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. 

The current draft estimated the proposed budget would see a decrease of $156,000, with total revenue expected to be just under $11.5 million and total expenditures just over $11.6 million. The draft also anticipated that the unassigned general fund balance would be $3.5 million at the end of the year, representing 30.6 percent of related expenditures. 

Sebastopol department heads submitted requests for budgets on specific items, and the budget committee reviewed the requests with department heads and feedback from the city manager and other city staff. Some of the items proposed stood out. 

The Police Department has requested $646,000 for additional staffing, including a police officer, police technician, police dispatcher and an administrative assistant. 

The Ad Hoc Committee for the Unhoused asked for $75,000 for a new Outreach Worker position. 

The Relaunch Sebastopol Committee requested $50,000 to continue its marketing. Relaunch Sebastopol is a city initiative to help the town recover from COVID-19 economic and social ravages. 

Staff from city hall proposed a budget request of $25,000 to expand the front counter at city hall to gain more workspace and suggested that the space could be used in the future as “learning opportunities, training and team interactions” increase. 

The actual budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year was $11,996,837. The proposed budget for 2022-23 is $11,449,060, with several items still to be added or considered such as ongoing labor negotiations and staff raises.

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