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Jackson Resident Sues City Over Garbage Rates

Krause, Kalfayan, Benink & Slavens, LLP announced in a press release that Jackson resident William Orescan filed a lawsuit in Amador County Superior Court against the City of Jackson. The suit alleges that the City has violated the Constitutional provisions of Proposition 218 by failing to allow the public the opportunity to protest garbage rate increases. More...

Success Stories

Read about local ratepayers who have successfully protested rate increases.

About Prop 218

Passed by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution to require cities, governments and special districts to allow affected property owners to protest any proposed new or increased property-related fees.

Sutter Creek Residents Defeat 41% Garbage Rate Increase

At a hearing on March 18, 2013, Ratepayer Protection Alliance (RPA) turned in 715 signed garbage rate protests to the Sutter Creek City Council. One person submitted a protest at the meeting and 6 others sent their protest directly to the City before the meeting. A handful of people withdrew protests, so the final number was 716. To stop the rate increase under Proposition 218, 588 protests are needed according to the City.

At the hearing, not one Council member asked any questions, and despite repeated public requests, no one from the City asked ACES to justify the rate increases which total 41% over the next 4.5 years.

Following the hearing, the Sutter Creek attorney and City staff spent all day counting the protests. City Manager Sean Rabe also participated most of the day. Two RPA representatives, two officers from ACES, and two members of the public were also at the counting. Attorney Derek Cole’s time has already cost the City $2000.

437 protests were accepted by the city attorney and 279 were rejected. A protest was accepted if it met one or both of the following conditions:

ACES and the City have refused to provide any information to independently verify the accuracy of either list.

In at least one case, the protest of a well-known couple who have lived in Sutter Creek for decades was rejected because the wife signed the protest, but the husband’s name was in ACES’ records. In another case, an ACES representative objected to counting the name “Jay” because only the single letter “J” appeared on the list.

After receiving Cole's count, the City Council agreed to limit the increase to 5.3%. Despite public concerns with the counting process and results, the Council agreed with Cole that 504 protests were valid and concluded that a majority did not protest (based on 1,174 total eligible properties).

RPA is investigating these protest anomalies and will report the findings when they are available.

The City of Sutter Creek notified residents in January 2013 of a 41% increase in garbage rates. The first of six increases is scheduled for April 1, then 5 more will follow each July 1, from 2013 through 2017. The City Council has not discussed the rate increases in public, and the notice is the first time Sutter Creek residents have heard about these increases.

The city’s franchise agreement with ACES Waste has a procedure for determining fair rates, which includes a guaranteed 12.5% profit for ACES, based on a detailed review of actual costs every three years. However, the City Council has circumvented the franchise agreement by notifying residents all at once of six increases over the next 4.5 years, with no review of actual costs.

In 2009, ACES Waste underbid Amador Disposal (offering smaller cans and reducing cleanup days from 4 down to 1) to win the contract for the City of Sutter Creek’s solid waste disposal. The contract allows for cost index increases for two years, followed by a detailed review in the third year that is supposed to calculate rates based on actual expenses. The first detailed review was supposed to be done in 2012, but ACES did not ask for an increase, and no detailed review was done. Now the City is doing away with the detailed reviews entirely.

In 2011, ACES claimed that it needed a 50% rate increase to meet its costs. Therefore, it appears that ACES bid substantially below its cost to secure the contract in 2009. Now the City is raising rates to levels much higher than the previous hauler’s rates.

ACES Waste now has a monopoly on solid waste disposal in Amador County. There are no other companies performing residential or transfer station disposal in our county. In December 2012, ACES sent out a notice to some customers claiming that its costs were decreasing “due to efficiencies that ACES Waste Services has achieved with the acquisition of an Amador County area previously serviced by a large national solid waste company. To put it simply, ACES costs have decreased because we are able to spread our costs over a larger number of customers as well as create more routing efficiencies.”

If that statement and ACES’ claims are all true, the acquisition of the Sutter Creek franchise at substantially below cost lowered county rates while now raising Sutter Creek rates by an average of 8% per year. Supposedly the index increases are to compensate for inflation, but inflation has been far less than the current increases.

Sutter Creek residents do not have to put up with this. Proposition 218 amended the State Constitution to allow ratepayers to protest rate increases. If you live in the city of Sutter Creek and want accountability for the rates you pay, fill out a protest form and send it to RPA. We will deliver the protests to the City Council on the hearing date. If a majority of customers return protests by March 18, the rate increases will not go into effect. Then the City Council will have to consider ACES' actual costs and make sure that ACES really needs more of your money.