Clerks work to verify signatures on garbage petitions

FRESNO, California

The city of Fresno is paying the county clerk about $40 thousand for the chore. At stake is whether the city councils 4 to 3 vote to franchise the city's garbage collection operation to a private company will go to a vote of the people.

City Council member Lee Brand says a lot is riding on the outcome. "If it comes back and they have the signatures they need, we have two choices, we have to rescind the franchise and start from square one, or we have to call a special election within 88 days. If we call a special election that's gonna cost up to a million dollars and that's pretty expensive all the way around."

Fresno mayor Ashley Swearingen was banking on getting $1.5 million from the garbage company up front, plus another $200 thousand a month in fees to help deal with the city's budget shortage starting in March.

Brand believes the franchise money will help, but will not fill the budget hole. "The latest I've heard is there is somewhere around four to five million dollars short. So if this comes true, you may be a million and a half or so short. Either way there is going to be a shortfall that has to be corrected."

But there's confusion about the true budget picture. City council president Blong Xiong says the voters should decide whether privatization is worth it.

"It's the Democratic process, it's what we do. We want to encourage people's participation, this is the first time that's happened in the city of Fresno so to kind of see this happen like this it's a pretty amazing thing."

The process of verifying all of the signatures is expected to take about a month. The city of Fresno is paying the county about $40 thousand for the service. The city has also hired an outside consultant for almost $10 thousand to advise the city during the process.

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