Despite protests from Stanislaus County, the Turlock City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ship the city's solid waste to a Merced County landfill for the next 120 days.
The move will save Turlock as much as $250,000 over the next four months.
“If this 120 day commitment shows the ratepayer that they're better off this way, and we can't make a better agreement with the county, I have to help the ratepayer,” said Councilmember Amy Bublak in supporting the change.
The move comes as Stanislaus County transferred control of its Energy-from-Waste incineration facility to Covanta Energy in July 2012. Following the transfer, rates surged from $28 per ton of waste dumped to $39.
And Turlock was not consulted about the rate increase, despite being a major user of the facility.
“At no time during the process of negotiations with Covanta (Energy) was the City (of Turlock) approached relative to the terms of the contract negotiations,” said Turlock Municipal Services Director Dan Madden.
Transporting each ton of solid waste to the Energy-from-Waste facility now costs Turlock $57.29, including an $18 transfer fee paid to Turlock's franchise waste hauler Turlock Scavenger. Transporting waste to the Stanislaus County landfill costs $51 per ton.
Sending waste to the Merced County landfill will cost only $39 per ton. As Turlock diverts about 41,000 tons of solid waste annually, the move could save between $492,000 and $759,890 each year.
“We're no longer talking nickles and dimes,” said Councilmember Forrest White. “You divide that up by the rate payer, and we're talking significant dollars.”
Stanislaus County objected to the change, arguing that the move could significantly impact a regional solid waste group. That group combines Stanislaus County and all county cities – except Modesto – to fund recycling efforts and meet state requirements.
“This is a classic case of having one's cake and eating it too,” said Assistant Stanislaus County CEO Keith Boggs.
Though the group is currently funded with a portion of fees paid for dumping at Stanislaus County landfills, Turlock expects to remain a part of the group. The city would expend about $25,000 annually writing a check directly to the group, still saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stanislaus County, though, believes that Turlock could be forced to leave the group. And the agreement could have other negative impacts, the county argued, resulting in more long-term costs in exchange for short-term savings.
Madden disagreed with Stanislaus County's interpretation, citing numerous contracts between Turlock, the group, and the county.
“All of these points, again, they don't have merit,” Madden said.
Turlock will use the next 120 days to negotiate a more permanent, 15-year contract with either Merced County or Stanislaus County. Stanislaus County has said that they will “sharpen their pencils” in an attempt to reduce the price disparity.
“Sometimes competition is kinda fun,” Bublak said. “You get to see what people are willing to break down on.”