Fresno council member flip flops on garbage battle

FRESNO, Calif.

"I'm here to report we now have a council majority in support of creation of a commercial solid waste franchise."

With a majority assured the Mayor wants to move forward and basically sell the city service that collects garbage from businesses and apartments. In exchange the city will get a franchise fee of about $2.5 million a year from two private companies, Allied Waste and Mid-Valley Disposal. The Mayor says the city needs the money to deal with a 6 million dollar budget deficit.

Swearengin and Council President Lee Brand credit one man for making it all possible. "I want to thank council member Olivier, he made a very courageous move." The Mayor said.

Brand joined the Mayor in commending Olivier. "I want to thank council member Olivier, he made a very courageous move."

Amid protests from city garbage workers the measure failed to pass the City Council twice before on a 4 to 3 vote. Council member Clint Olivier rejected the privatization plan before because he felt it wasn't competitive enough. But, he had a sudden change of heart. He told us, "I reached out to Mayor Swearengin because it was important to me try and move forward and move our city past this issue."

Olivier says he asked for changes, like lowering any rate increases for commercial customers and an agreement to consider making the deal more competitive. He initially wanted to open up the city to an unlimited number of private trash haulers, but is satisfied that under this compromise, his consideration will be discussed in eight years.

Olivier said, "I feel like I held out and changed this contract for the better."

But the union representing the garbage workers say, something about this deal smells. After the news conference union representative Marina Magdelano attacked the Mayor and Olivier. "This is so dirty the fact they made a back deal with Clint Olivier... what did they promise him? Because I will tell you that on Thursday, Clint was a no vote."

Olivier says he saw this as one of the only options to balance the city budget without laying off workers. The garbage collectors have been promised jobs with the private companies for at least a year, though at lower wages.

The council will formally vote on Thursday to present deal to the garbage companies. Olivier's proposals aren't assured, they will be up for negotiation. The Mayor says that within 60 to 75 days there will be public hearings, and another council vote to finalize the deal.

While the Mayor is confident it will pass Magdelano says the union plans to keep fighting. "I'm not gonna go down until we lose, baby."

Magdelano also claimed the privatization plan amounts to "money laundering." She notes there is a $24 million reserve in the solid waste account. The Mayor says that money will be used on behalf of the ratepayers. Magdelano says that means the city will subsidize the private garbage haulers, so they can artificially keep rates low for a few years.

Selling off the garbage collection business is just part of the mayors effort to balance the budget. This week she will ask all city employees to accept a 3% pay cut in order to save $3 million. Swearengin says if they don't accept, there will be about 60 layoffs.

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