Let’s Talk Trash

When it comes the garbage services, residents have two simple requests: 1. Pick up the garbage every week in a reliable manner; 2. Do it in the most cost-effective way possible. Easy enough, right? Well, no. Potentially higher costs for garbage services were the topic under discussion at the last City Council meeting.

In my opinion, cost increases can be avoided by systemic streamlining, and by structuring the payment for services in a way that is more efficient than the status quo.

The council deliberated at length on how to best manage the billing for garbage services, and the following options were discussed: billing would continue to be done internally by the city of San Jose, or externally by either the garbage company or Santa Clara County, via the annual property tax bill. Thirty-three city employees currently manage billing and customer service. Residents can walk into city hall and pay their bill in person, mail a check, have the amount automatically deducted from a checking account or pay online—assuming the resident has a PC; the current software platform does not support Apple devices.

Few cities actually manage this process internally because it is not fiscally optimal. Prior to my tenure, staff brought forward and council unanimously supported the implementation of a software solution that would manage garbage billing in house. This process was originally supposed to cost $5 million and be fully implemented in 12 months. However, it ended up taking 30 months to implement and costs eventually exceeded $15 million.

Even worse, the city borrowed money by issuing commercial paper—similar to a line of credit—to pay for the software implementation. Ugh!

To complicate things further, another company acquired the software provider, and now the specific billing software that the city utilizes is no longer supported. When this is the situation, the city is exposed to greater risk and pain in case of any systematic software failure. Not good, any way you look at it.

When considering possible solutions, one option is to double down and spend an estimated $16 million—actual cost could be even higher—on a new software solution, and maintain the internal billing procedure currently in place. This would allow the 33 employees to keep their positions. But it would also raise garbage collection rates by approximately $14.50 a year for every household.

I could not support this option in good conscience, due to the fact that any incremental cost increase without some additional value to residents is not warranted. Fortunately, the council as a whole voted 7-4 to eliminate internal billing.

Another possible solution would entail adding garbage fees as a line item to property tax bills, as the city currently handles the library parcel tax and sewer fees. This method creates a stable revenue stream for the city, and the streamlined process would be the most efficient way to avoid future rate increases for residents. This is one of those special instances where government is not only the lowest cost solution, but also offers the least amount of risk to the city and residents.

The issue is really about efficiency. Whether it is a tax dollar or a fee dollar, government has a responsibility to be efficient with all remittances. Business processes can and should be streamlined whenever there is an opportunity to avoid increasing costs. For the individual opposed to organizational efficiency in government, I have a gently used abacus and typewriter I could sell real cheap.

29 Comments

  1. San Jose outsources parking ticket collection.  I think it makes sense to have someone else handle this, but it’s likely to cost consumers more not less if it’s added to the property tax bills.

    People don’t look at their property tax bills.  That’s why the sewer charge is so high, and why no one complains about the tax for Santa Clara County pensions.

    Just for the record, my charge for “SJ SEWER SANI/STORM is $500.40.

    The County retirement levy is .000388.  I believe that is $38.80 per $100,000 of assessed value.

  2. The City either needs to be in the utility business, or not.  Either operate the “community” service completely (water, garbage, electricity, internet…) or get out of the way.  There’s no reason the City should subsidize the billing costs for a company that provides garbage service at profit.  San Jose has a history of bad decision making in regards to garbage service.

    There’s certainly something to be said for well run services that taxpayers expect, but in San Jose it’s never been done well.  We pay premiums for power, telecommunications, water, garbage and the cost always goes up.

    The current City Council are huge fans of “outsourcing” to their developers and private businesses buddies- surprised this wasn’t PO’s first suggestion.  I, for one, am disappointed in the Graffiti change… there’s more of it than ever and the news pointed out there was overcharging and lack of accountability.  Too bad that our elected leaders are such poor decision makers.  From garbage, to public safety… disgraceful.

  3. PO,

    This is why our city sucks.  POOR MANAGEMENT.  Everything this council touches, turns into a million dollar blunder.

    I hope everyone read sundays mucky news where the airport is crying they cannot pay the remodel fees and are looking for other ways to pay.  Here we go again time to dip into the general funds.

    And then Pete and Sam want to give police a one time 8% raise (for one year) to stop the bleeding of officers leaving for greener pastures and better pensions.  Funny how other cities have no problem retaining good employees.  And if Chuck tries to implement an evaluation based pay increase watch out.  And then the suggestion to ignore contract talks for a year.  Are you kidding me.

    The problem to all of these problems are simple.  Chuck and his clown council members are brain dead and have no good solutions, just throw more of the money which they claim does not exist at the problem then blame employees for the fiscal emergency.

    My gosh, city cannot even figure out how to take out the garbage.  Clean your own house first.

  4. Finally ! a Topic that Pierre knows something about , GARBAGE ! “The Process was supposed to cost $ 5 Million Dollars and be up and running in 10 months , But in reality it took $ 15 Million Dollars & took 30 Months” . Wow ! Did it ever occur to somebody to just say STOP! This isnt working lets try something else. Just moe proof that San Jose is with out a doubt the WORST run City in the Country . You Blame Pensions and Salaries of City workers for all the Citys woes BUT the one thing you NEVER hear is, ” We made a mistake , lets correct it ”

    Lets see how many millions of Dollars this Mayor & Council are willing to Waste Trying to defend the illegal Measure B .  At what point will they admit they made a mistake and actually try to work with City workers to come to a Equitable Compromise . My guess is it will never happen, Reed is more than Arrogant enough to never admit he made a mistake. The Only problem is , we will never be able to recover from the massive exodus of public safety . it would take at least 10 years to recover the experience that has left this city

    • Reed, admitted he made mistakes in the past… saying that he shouldn’t have voted for “generous” employee contracts.  He is a lawyer and politician, the least scrupulous professions in most folks’ eyes.  He personifies it!

  5. This will limit competition on future garbage contracts, as it will be difficult to move billing services to a new company. When there is no competition the rate payers will be stuck with the bill.

  6. Hey PO, how much money does the city make on all the aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and beer bottles that the garage company collects?

    And now you want to raise fee’s again? Why don’t take that money you get from the recyclables and buy the new computer software. Stop taking money out of the general fund.

  7. The recycling program has become a big joke in our neighborhood.  Every week the same well organized team steals all the valuable recyclables in the entire area.  We have reported the theft numerous times but SJPD no longer responds to such calls. Strangely, SJPD does have the manpower to send an officer to tell insistent callers why they no longer respond to such crimes.

    • I contacted PO about this problem when he was still the council member of my district.  I stated that this was an ongoing problem, theft of recyclables is against the law, and instead of constantly raising the rates on customers for these services, how about going after the thieves that are taking monies in the form of recyclables away from the city.  He responded by asking me where I live exactly (West SJ at the time). I tell him assuming this means action will be taken.  Instead he responds by telling me that nothing can be done, it is what it is, and maybe I should look into a smaller recycling container to save money. City efficiency at it’s finest.  Happy to be gone!

    • well organized team steals all the valuable recyclables, REALLY.

      IT’S TRASH THAT’S WHY YOU PUT IT ON THE CRUB.  DO YOU GET A REBATE, DOES THE CITY MAKE MONEY.  NO!

      Who cares who takes these valuable recyclables.  If they are so valuable then recycle them yourself.

      • Rob,

        I care very little about the recyclables.  I used the term “valuable” just to designate the recyclables that can be returned for cash (CRV).

        What I do care about is the City of San Jose once again displaying its incompetence by spending (and charging residents) large amounts of money on a recycle program that has become so ineffective.  If the city no longer cares about recycle theft, we might as well go back to a single garbage can and let the bums take care of the rest.

  8. If the police department is unable or unwilling to respond to minor crimes or code violations, perhaps we should create the equivalent of “meter maids” to handle things like people stealing bottles and cans from recycling containers.  I don’t think a full fledged peace officer is required to handle this.

    A person specifically dealing recycling container content theft could probably pay for the cost of such a program.

    • The only class of individual who is legally authorized to deal with a crime is a ‘full fledged peace officer’. There would be no ‘cost recovery’ since that person would not be collecting the recyclables and could not be so omni-present as to be sufficient deterrent for this petty crime. Furthermore, I think that addressing traffic collisions would be a more important service restoration than the recycling issue.

      Again, this problem comes down to an issue of staffing levels. Everyone at every level of the criminal food chain knows SJPD is grossly understaffed and so, they look at our city as a ripe for the pickings since they also know there’s far less likelihood they’ll suffer any consequences for their crimes.

      Who’s to blame?

      Reed and his allies for lying, failing to negotiate with employee groups publicly and in good faith and for the monstrosity that is Measure B.

      Who else?

      The voters who passed Measure B. Why. They ignored every prediction from people who were in a place to know about the consequences of Measure B, both in terms of its effects on employees and the ways in which employees would respond.

      Who else? The Murky News. Rather than being the watchdog of the government and presenting facts, they have consistently and perniciously made themselves Mayor Reeds publicity wing, consistently presenting Mayor Reed’s side of an issue and virtually nothing else.

      You get what you pay for. You pay for what you get.

      • > You get what you pay for. You pay for what you get.

        San Jose residents pay just as much in taxes as residents in surrounding cities that are able to provide adequate police protection.  The problem has been decades of mismanagement in San Jose.  We could spend the day listing the failures such as the Hayes Mansion, the Pavilion, the San Jose Grandprix, the AMC Theaters, etc…

  9. No Stevo wrong again… SJPD is required to respond per policy when clueless citizen calls 911 over and over and demands an officer. SO ya maybe that rule should be changed and you should get a clue

    • Actually you need to let it go.  You put your trash on the curb.  Who cares who takes it.  It trash, if you wanted to recycle for money don’t leave it on the curb.  It is not like the city is going to give you a refund on your bill.

      At least some under privileged person is getting up at 5 am to collect cans and make a couple of bucks.

      I was assigned to a police unit to monitor the trash, it was an infraction at best.  A total waste of the city to pay us OT to monitor your trash.  Store your cans and bottles for a month then go to your local recycle center, wait in line and get you 10-15 bucks while wasting gas to drive there.  The only one making money is the garbage company.

      Police have bigger fish to fry.

      • Rob,

        If SJPD no longer wants to enforce recycle theft, they should at least update their web site.  Here are items from SJPD’s web site regarding recycle theft:

        If a person steals your recyclables you should do the following: 3) If the recycling bins are on the street or curb call 311 with suspect details.

        Along with this advice:

        Although, you may feel this is a harmless crime, scavenging presents an opportunity for individuals to check out your alley, garage and home. They may want more than your recyclables and could come back later to burglarize your garage or home.

        See http://www.sjpd.org/reportingcrime/RecyclingTheft.html

        • Come on steveO,

          City muni code has rarely been updated since the early 80’s.  That is the code that enforces garbage cans.  Ask the biggest guy on the council.

          Hell SJPD barely has officers to respond to violent crimes, let alone have a civilian to update the SJPD website.  There are more professional thieves scoping out homes than the homeless trying to make a few bucks on your trash.

          Calling 311 is a joke and Chuck knows it like the IPA.  Makes you feel good you called even if no one is coming.  311 dispatcher might take a report for no follow up but I doughy it.  Hell burglary victims are calling in with more details and they get no response.  Dumpster diving should be taken off the books altogether. Suggest you keep calling 911 and tell them you may have a prowler or possible burglar.  Even then good luck to get a response.

          Thank you Chuck for Measure B and laying off officers.

        • Obviously, every problem in the City is due to Chuck and Measure B.  Let’s get rid of Chuck and bring back Ron Gonzales and his predecessors and offer the SJPD immediate 20% raises, lifetime pensions, gold plated health plans.  Then let’s double down and get 66 more pensionable city employees to figure out how to do garbage billing.  And while we are at it, let’s have other city employees write great contracts, like the ones that allow the haulers to claim that billing information is their proprietary data.

    • One other helpful tip for you.  If you are not going to go to the recycle center, I suggest you put your cans, bottles and plastic in a garbage bag and place it next to your other garbage so these people do not have to rummage through your cans in the morning and possibly disturb your beauty sleep.

      IT’S GARBAGE YOU DO NOT WANT IT, THAT IS WHY YOU PUT IT IN A CAN TO BE PICKED UP BY THE GARBAGE COMPANY.

  10. So let’s say the recycling maid shows up to the scene of the crime and the suspect is still pulling out these valuable recyclables. Now the recycling maid tells the suspect to stop, because now your stealing from the city of San Jose. The suspect tells the recycling maid to stick it where the sun does not shine. What do you want the recycling maid to do? The maid does not have arrest powers or authority. Let’s say the suspect takes a combative stance and starts to attack the recycling maid. Now what? Now you have to call a police officer to come and save the recycling maid, use force to make the arrest. Hours of wasted time for an aluminum can or beer bottle.

    Maybe you and Pier can start up a volunteer program that works the midnight shift and go around and stop these crimes. But be warned, the homeless do bite.

    You will never be able to outsource a police officer, no matter how smart you think you are.

  11. PO,

    the picture at the top of this blog should be a picture of you waving goodbye to a bus(s) load of great city employees saying “see you later San Jose” we got better jobs elsewhere.

  12. “IT’S GARBAGE YOU DO NOT WANT IT, THAT IS WHY YOU PUT IT IN A CAN TO BE PICKED UP BY THE GARBAGE COMPANY.”

    Not entirely true.  If you didn’tt care about it you would not waste the time to segregate it from the real garbage.

    Apparently police don’t care.  And not just about garbage.  What else is new?

  13. S. Randall….

    It’s not about not caring. It’s about not having the resources to deal with it. No other city in the nation (to my knowledge) has so few officers per capita than San Jose. Certainly no large city does.

    If you don’t like the reduction in services, stop drinking Reed’s Kool-aid, get informed about what’s really going on with the city’s finances, and then do a little legwork talking to cops about why so many of their peers have left the PD. We all know the reasons. We all talk to one another. But, maybe you need to hear firsthand the reasons. It’s subpar non-competitive wages and benefits and the specter of Measure B.

    • SteveO was being polite when he wrote, “Strangely, SJPD does have the manpower to send an officer to tell insistent callers why they no longer respond to such crimes.”

      My perception, and the rest of you can chime in, is that the police are sulking and are not doing as much as they can to help things.  The SJPD has become the DMV.

      If the police are waiting to hear about the jobs in Sunnyvale or Menlo Park, while San Jose goes to heck, then that’s well and good for them.  There are not going to be jobs for all of you though.

      • They are doing the best they can , with what they have. Unfortunately it is NOT enough ( But not for lack of trying) there are Less PD officers to deal with more crime and Violence than ever before. This is why they continue to leave, why on gods green earth would they stay here when they are Not appreciated , Maligned , Underpaid , under benefitted , and now under pensioned. Ca you really blame them for leaving to much greener , more appreciative pastures ? Residents were warned about this , and stiil they chose to believe The Mayor and his Blatent lies . There are more than enough cities and municipalities that would love to hire ex- SJPD officers. Who at one time the most desired and respected candidates available. dont kid yourself things are going to get alot worse before they get any better. But REED will be long gone

        • I DO NOT think the Mayor and Council have done a good job, and I too believe that things will get worse before they get better.

          “I just know team that complains the most usually loses.”  John Madden said that about the Super Bowl.

        • So you want them to just accept the consequences of an illegal ballot measure ?? That will in almost absolute certainty be overruled in court. how could you live if you were made to pay 45% of your salary into med / den & pension ? do you realize that no other city is or has done to its workers what san jose has done. here we are , the best performing city in the country , and we are screwing over the very people that protect us and rescue us . ” It is better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees”  – Emiliano Zapata

        • The only reason why it could get overturned in court is that our previous set of union-beholden leaders wrote these wonderful public employee contracts in the first place.  I don’t get a medical, dental, or pension plan from my employer and spend $1100/month for a family of 3 just for medical…no dental, no pension.  If my IRA tanks that’s my problem, no infinite pool of taxpayers ready to fill up the difference between unrealistic pension plan assumptions and real investment returns.  And unlike the Hayes Mansion, the SJ Rep, and on and on if my business fails, I don’t get loans and grants from the City.

          The City of SJ would be better off disbanding and getting annexed by say, Sunnyvale.