Santa Barbara County residents will see their trash bill increase this year to help fund the Tajiguas Landfill, which is losing money because the people of Santa Barbara recycle too much.
In 1990, state legislation required all jurisdictions and municipalities to send 50 percent of their landfill-destined waste materials to recycling programs and facilities by the year 2000. Santa Barbara followed along and Tajiguas, which makes its money by the weight of garbage it takes in, started losing money.
“The good news is we’ve exceeded that goal,” said 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall’s assistant Mark Chaconas. “The downside is the way that we have. Our revenue is based on the material that crosses the landfill. The tonnage that passes into Tajiguas has decreased, and as a result the revenue has decreased.”
Recycling education in elementary schools and community awareness programs have helped decrease the amount of trash sent to the landfill, and in turn decreased landfill revenue.
The landfill also loses money to the Community Hazardous Waste Collection Center on campus, which disposed of 645,000 pounds of paint, motor oil and asbestos last year, much of which otherwise would have gone to landfills or down storm drains.
Due to the financial struggles of Tajiguas, the County Board of Supervisors approved an eight percent solid waste program fee for the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County on September 18.
The fee increase, which will first appear on October 2001 trash bills, is estimated to bring in an extra $2 million in revenue for Tajiguas. A portion of the extra money will be used to compensate for the waste collection company’s increasing energy costs.
In September, waste haulers received a three percent cost of living adjustment, and part of the income from the fee increase will be used to accommodate this change.
Even with the increase in earnings, the landfill is still operating $4.2 million over budget. To help alleviate this problem, the county cut its costs by $3.4 million, in part by closing the Santa Ynez Foxen Canyon Landfill two days a week. In addition, it has reduced the scope of some of its capital projects.
This still leaves an $800,000 dent in the landfill’s fiscal reserves.
Chaconas said if the county did not run the landfill, one of the large companies that own other landfills in Southern California would take control and could set whatever rates it wanted.
“Supervisor Marshall has always felt that we maintain local control over our waste stream,” he said. “This includes having control over the handlers that collect the trash, having the facility to deal with the trash, and ultimately the landfill.”
Mark Schleich, a deputy director in the county Public Works Department, said that environment-friendly economics are problematic because helping the environment can hurt businesses.
“If you don’t use water, the water company doesn’t see revenue. At the same time they encourage people to buy low-flow devices,” he said.
Despite financial hardship, Schleich said the economic downside should not discourage further efforts to help the environment.
“Fifty percent shouldn’t be the goal – that should be the baseline,” he said. “We need to change the model by which we fund our program.”
The eight percent fee increase is part of the shift from a system in which fees are based on what crosses the scale to a system in which fees are based on the amount of trash that individual households generate.
The county has also created a team to develop a long-term solid waste program with a 20-year scope. A draft plan is expected in about six months.