Fresno Council rejects Mayor Ashley Swearengin's trash plan

FRESNO, Calif.

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With vocal opposition from the union representing the workers in the city's Commercial Solid Waste Division the Mayor's plan fell on a four to three vote.

Council Members Oliver Baines, Clint Olivier, Sal Quintero, and Blong Xiong voted against the privatization measure. Council Members Lee Brand, Andreas Borgeas and Larry Westerlund supported the plan.

Under the proposal the city would have been divided into two sections. Two private trash haulers, Mid-Valley Disposal, and Allied Waste would have been given exclusive rights to collect trash from businesses and apartment houses in their territories. In exchange, they would pay the city a Franchise Fee, estimated to be around $2.5 million dollars a year.

Swearengin argued that money would be vital to help deal with the current $5 to $6 million a year budget shortage.

In exchange for the contracts, the waste companies agreed to hire most of the 125 employees in the commercial solid waste division. But the jobs would have been guaranteed for only six months, and at reduced pay and benefits.

Union representatives noted the commercial solid waste division is an "enterprise" agency, meaning it is funded solely by billing customers for its services it was not a drain on the taxpayer, and in fact operates at a surplus.

The plan was unveiled months ago, and the Mayor assumed the measure would pass, and factored the $2.5 million in fees into the city budget.

Protestors gathered outside city hall Thursday afternoon. Inside, dozens of members of the public addressed the council. Most opponents of the plan were city employees.

A close vote by the council had been anticipated. All but one council member indicated their positions weeks ago. But Oliver Baines, sworn in just three weeks ago had indicated he was weighing all the facts, and was undecided. In the end, he said privatization did not appear to meet the goal of lowering costs to customers, or saving money. He added that while he understood the city was in a desperate situation, he felt the revenue from the franchise fees would not be enough to make a significant difference in the city's budget problems. He also cited a recent letter from the city's Utility Advisory Committee, which recommended the plan be rejected.

The vote is seen as a major defeat for Swearengin, who had warned that if the measure failed there would be drastic layoffs throughout city hall.

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