Recently, the Lompoc City Council increased the solid waste utility fee by 3.6 percent. Some may wonder why they did this at a time when inflation is attacking the family budget like a ravenous badger.

The Solid Waste Division owns and operates a regional landfill disposal facility where it provides recycling areas for wood and green waste, metal and appliances, electronic waste, concrete, asphalt, topsoil, and tires. They also bury tons of trash that can’t be recycled every year.

The landfill manages waste from the city of Lompoc, as well as the unincorporated area of the county, including Mission Hills, Vandenberg Village, and Mesa Oaks. They also operate a permanent Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility, provide used motor oil drop-off sites throughout Lompoc, and provide periodic street sweeping.

All these services come with their own set of regulatory and reporting requirements. It not only takes waste-truck operators, landfill technicians, and people to staff each waste collection facility, but also demands the services of several employees dedicated to customer billing, equipment maintenance, regulatory reporting, and regulatory compliance audits.

Each of these services requires adequate funding via an approved fee schedule. The last time fees were raised by the council was four years ago in 2018. However, a 2014 staff report and a unanimous recommendation from the Utility Commission was to begin a five-year series of 3.6 percent raises to keep up with increasing operational costs.

After three of these raises, the process was suspended to make political points by the City Council effective in 2019, which according to the city resulted in at least $1 million in lost revenue; now after kicking the can down the road, they finally implemented the belated final increase in the approved series during their April 19 meeting.

The staff report for this hearing included a bleak outlook “Since the approval of the series of rate adjustments in 2014, several actions have occurred affecting the ongoing and future capital costs of the Solid Waste Utility.” Most were the result of satisfying ever-changing environmental regulations and others by the increased cost of supplies and labor.

The first was “During the 2017-19 fiscal budget cycle, the Solid Waste Utility was informed by the Central Coast Water Quality Control Board (Board) that it would begin requiring the city to implement strategies to mitigate storm water runoff originating within the Landfill and, more importantly, in the valley (or watershed) above the Landfill.”

This project alone was estimated to cost $5 million; however, staff estimates are usually much lower, so I suspect that based on history it could eventually cost $7 million-$10 million to satisfy regulatory requirements.

Then there is the annual cost-of-living increase for employees, equipment replacement costs (e.g. the governor wants to replace all fossil fuel powered vehicles with all electric vehicles by 2035), increased fuel costs, and numerous other items that increase operational costs.

As a final warning, on April 19, the staff said, “Project (solid waste disposal) costs will impact the Landfill users and collection system customers in an as yet unknown amount pending the completion and implementation of the 2020 rate study.” So, rates are going up again, but we don’t know how much yet.

The moral to this story is that it is unwise to “kick the can down the road” just to make political points. Whether we rate-payers like it or not, it costs money to provide services like waste removal, and many costs are driven by external actions that are not controlled by local government, such as regulatory changes.

For now, the dollar a month rate increase won’t sink our family’s budget, but who knows how much more Sacramento is going to cost us in the future.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.