A 4-1 vote at the June 26 San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting approved an amendment to an agreement with the Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) to award an additional $135,000 to a consultant to complete a cost study to make it clearer what the impacts of large garbage trucks from outside the area are having on county roads going to and from the John Smith Landfill. Supervisor Anthony Botelho cast the lone dissenting vote for the amendment that raised the total consultant’s fee to a cost not to exceed $144,999.
The item was one of 28 on the consent agenda and would not have been discussed if not for Supervisor Mark Medina, who pulled it for discussion because even though he voted in favor of it, he said he wanted the public to be aware of the price tag for the study.
“I wanted to bring this up for informational purposes only,” Medina said. “I know I’m the one who usually is concerned about these consultants and we’re looking at spending $135,000. That’s a lot of money. It’s something we need and that’s why I wanted to explain the $135,000 is extremely important to me. We need proper backup in order to negotiate in the future and have all the costs covered to recoup any expenses we have in the county.”
According to background information provided by the county, the results of the cost study will be used during negotiations with the hauler for an amendment to the current landfill agreement to address the negative impacts of trucks on local roads and provide the county with more equitable revenue. On Nov. 22, 2016, the board approved the concept of a waste import cost study as part of the resolution approved regarding the “Landfill Action Plan to Address Negative Impacts from Out of County Waste.” The overview of the study was presented to the landfill ad hoc committee on June 16, and approved by the committee for the board to consider for approval.
The out-of-county tonnage to the John Smith Landfill has increased significantly since the approval of the current landfill agreement. In 2016, 80 percent of the tonnage to the landfill was from out of county. Overall, the annual tonnage into the John Smith Landfill has increased 120 percent since 2013, from 149,837 tons to approximately 329,534 tons in 2016.
The Nov. 22, 2016 agreement stipulated that the county will ensure that the original criteria approved by the board of supervisors for the Landfill Operating Agreement (LOA) are met by meeting with the company to negotiate a mutually acceptable amendment to the agreement in order to receive a fair, sustainable and equitable revenue stream from the lease of the landfill. The agreement would also compensate for the negative impacts on the community from the significant increase in out-of-county tonnage, cover the costs of the county’s landfill related program costs, and produce net revenue increase to the General Fund.
Botelho said he thought the study was supposed to include all heavy trucks moving through the county and not just those going to the landfill. Louie Valdez, county analyst, said the scope of the study only included the garbage trucks.
“The other trucks, if that’s something the board in the future wants to do, could come with a Phase 2,” he said.
Botelho said again he thought the study also included other trucks. Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz asked Botelho if he would like an agenda item at a future meeting to discuss studying additional truck traffic. Botelho said he did.
“One hundred thirty-five thousand dollars is a lot of money to study trucks from just one business,” Botelho said. “I could do that in one afternoon.”
Valdez said if supervisors wanted to add additional trucks, he did not know what that would do to the study. He said staff was hoping the board would take action on the item before them at that time, and then if it was possible to add to the scope later, they probably could do so.
Botelho wanted to know how the county would recoup the cost of the study, and how long it would take. Valdez said the impacts on roads from the garbage trucks were considerable and even though $135,000 itself is considerable, the potential costs that could be recovered because of the study would more than compensate the county the study’s cost.
“What’s going to cost even more money is the unknown factor of what the trucks may be costing without this data,” Valdez said. “We’ve been trying to make decisions based on evidence so we can make sure that we can recoup costs.”
Botelho said he was having problems with the fairness of the study.
“I know if I was the operator of the landfill, if you’re just targeting my trucks when you have trucks running all over the county, whether you’re talking about the cannery or some of the other processors, I’m more into treating everyone fairly,” Botelho said.
Valdez said that because the county has an agreement with a single garbage hauler, that’s where the focus of the study needs to be. He said that while he agreed there are trucks from a number of other industries, the county has to start the study somewhere.
“I’m going to bring something up that no one wants to hear,” Medina said. “When you think about $135,000, I’m the one always talking about penny pinching on consultants. But, if we look at the tax-sharing agreement, there’s no teeth in it. The reason I want this is we’re going to be able to look at this and say this is a cost. We can go back and audit it. We can show tangible evidence where these numbers came from. That’s why I’m an advocate of the consulting firm to continue with the process.”
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said the data being collected is important to the ad hoc committee studying the issue.
“I understand it’s a lot of money being spent for a study, but the ad hoc committee dealing with the landfill needs this information,” he said. “We hear from our constituents complaining about all the trucks going through the county to the landfill, but we need to know what the cost to the county is from those trucks.”
There were no comments from the public prior to the board's, approval of the consultant's amendment, with Botelho opposed.