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Fresno Public Utilities Puzzle: Rate Hikes, Old Pipes, New State & Federal Mandates

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City leaders want to include apartments and condos in Operation Clean Up. Fresno also has to comply with new state and federal environmental mandates. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall))
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The city of Fresno’s solid waste pickup services is not only out of money, leaders say, but they must soon comply with costly new state and federal environmental mandates.

And, while a fee hike may not be proposed until late July, Operation Clean Up, the city’s once-a-year bulky item pickup program, could be offered to people living in apartments.

Fresno Department of Public Utilities Director Brock Buche told the city council on Thursday that the department needed $12.1 million more to finish the year in the positive.

At current funding levels, water lines with 80-year lifespans won’t get replaced for 167 years. Sewer pipes are on a 600-year replacement cycle, Buche said.

Currently, the city can only respond to emergency pipe breaks, costing 150% to 200% more, said City Manager Georgeanne White.

The city has had to reduce pressure in the system to cut costs, Buche said

Public Utilities Department Plays Catch Up with Regulations

“Without a rate increase, it’s unsustainable,” Buche said.

The city is also facing state and federal environmental rules.

California’s AB 1383 requires disposing of organic waste. By 2025, the amount of food and compostable garbage needs to be reduced by 75%. Additionally, at least 20% of food waste needs to be rescued and sent to distribution sites such as food banks.

White said for Fresnans, this will eventually mean putting food waste into the green bin, but the city’s contractor isn’t set up to sort that garbage yet.

It would take an additional $1.8 million a year, Buche estimated, to meet the organic waste mandate.

The California Air Resources Board also has mandated that public utility departments upgrade their fleets to low emissions. In the May 25 City Council meeting, Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi said the city would be forced to pass off the cost to buy new electric garbage trucks onto ratepayers even though the technology doesn’t exist yet to be used at a city-wide level.

Electric trucks only have half the range of gas-powered vehicles, Buche said, meaning they’ll have to double their fleet size, which would in effect quadruple the number of trucks they need to buy.

As of yet, CARB has not outlined any penalties for non-compliance.

“So if I wanted to give CARB a giant middle finger, we can do that,” Karbassi said.

Buche wants to look into hydrogen power for the fleet.

City Hall also received notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that its landfills are out of compliance. Paying to upgrade landfills will have to come from both the general fund and ratepayers.

Rate Increase Proposal May Come Late July

Meanwhile, the city hasn’t increased garbage rates since 2009.

Without an increase,  Buche said the department will have to keep positions vacant and delay upgrading equipment.

Approving a rate increase requires consent from voters under Proposition 218. Once the city proposes a fee — White estimated late July or early August — households would have an opportunity to object by sending in a letter saying they oppose the hikes.

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias asked about including apartments in Fresno’s Operation Clean Up, its curbside discard pickup program.

White said the city is looking into that already. Apartment and condo dwellers make up 65% of the city, Arias said. Arias said those in apartments and condominiums have been paying for homeowners to get curbside pickup while being left out.

City staff did not provide a cost estimate on expanded curbside pickup during the budget hearing. A request for that information was not returned by press time.

Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.