Approve 1.19% Increase in Garbage Collection Rates - YES
This was a very difficult vote for me. While a 1-2% in the cost of services for a given year is perfectly reasonable and tracks with inflation, this particular raise comes as part of a very troubling trend of sharp increases in the garbage collection rate charged by Mill Valley Refuse Service (MVRS).
That trend led me to review the Town's contract with MVRS. Adopted in 1996 and expiring in 2026, our "franchise agreement" has a number of what I consider serious structural flaws, most importantly that the Town is essentially obligated to guarantee MVRS a 10% profit on the cost of doing business. This means that if the cost of doing business goes up for any reason, MVRS is entitled to raise their fee, and the dollar amount of their profit margin goes up—effectively incentivizing an inefficient and expensive business.
While I believe MVRS acts in good faith and has not abused this language, I feel strongly that this is exactly the wrong incentive structure for a taxpayer-funded public service, where the contract should be set up to incentivize efficiency and cost-effectiveness. We've seen a number of sharp increases in their fee over the past several years, always attributed to external market forces that make it more expensive for them to collect garbage.
For example, COVID restrictions on their business prompted them to raise their rate by almost 8%, but now that COVID is ending, I have not received any indication that rates will come back down, which I am very much expecting.
As we move toward the end of our contract with MVRS in 2026, I will be pushing for the Town to conduct a thorough assessment of both MVRS and alternative waste haulers, analyzing the level of service against the cost to residents—and above all, I will be looking for reformed contract language that doesn't put residents on the hook for each market hiccup or business mishap.