The waiting game has just begun for both sides in the battle over the outsourcing of Fresno’s residential trash service.
For the past month opponents of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s plan to outsource the city’s home trash service have hustled to collect signatures in order to meet a January 18 deadline to put the decision in the hands of voters.
More than 50 people escorted around 35,000 signatures in seven sealed white boxes into the City Clerk’s Office on Friday.
“We are here so proud to deliver just under 40,000 signatures,” said Marina Magdaleno the business representative of Local 39, the garbage-truck driver’s union that spearheaded the petitioning.
But despite the thousands of signatures, opponents of the Mayor’s proposal have their fingers crossed. The group needs just under 22,000 valid signatures in order to put the decision on the ballot.
If the opponents of the legislation truly gathered enough signatures then the city has two options. Repeal the action or hold a special election; an election that some say could cost around $1 million.
“We really just need to look out for the good of our entire city. If the city goes bankrupt then they are not going to have those jobs, nor those dues. I mean so what’s the point. A million dollar burden on the city for a special election is reckless in my opinion,” said Edgar Blunt, an outsourcing supporter and board member of Fresnans for Responsible Government an advocacy group that has helped fund opposition to the petition drive.
The city hopes to give its 105,000 residential trash accounts to Fresno-based Mid Valley Disposal in return for a $1.5 million signing bonus and an annual $2.5 million in franchise fees to the city’s general fund. The City Council approved the deal December 20 of last year.
Swearengin says the privatization will prevent what she calls a fiscal emergency. The deal if passed will run for nine years, have almost an 18 percent rate cut for the first 21 months, ensure rate-hike caps for the remaining seven years and force Mid Valley to keep on any city employees affected by the change for at least one year.
That led opponents of the privatization to launch a 30 day campaign to put the issue in front of voters. Outsourcing opponents said they oppose the Mayors decision for a number of reasons.
Beverly Fitzpatrick, a retired teacher, said there is no reason to cut trash service.
“I’m a tax paying citizen and so far I’ve had no problem with my trash pick-up,” she said.
Fresno garbage man Richard Martinez agrees.
“They have countless awards; best in the nation when it comes to recycling,” Martinez said. Probably the one good thing Fresno is known for. Other than that you have crime, you got shootings, you got dirty freeways, but their garbage department is award winning. Why would you do that? Why do you kill the goose that lays the golden egg and serve it for Christmas.”
The signature campaign wasn’t always easy. In fact outsourcing opponents said at times it got downright nasty.
When outsourcing opponents hired a firm to help them collect signatures, supporters said the pubic were being misguided.
But that was only the beginning. Outsourcing supporters launched a campaign to educate the public on the issues by hiring paid signatures gatherers. The groups sent out mailers, aired radio ads and made phone calls.
In response the city took the unusual step of allowing those who had signed the petition to revoke their signatures by filling out a form online or at city hall.
Sue Beevers, a quality control worker in Fresno, disapproved of the way outsourcing supporters ran their campaign.
“I was furious because I came home at the end of a long day and turned on my answering machine and got a message that was reporting to be Ashley Swearengin’s opinion,” Beevers said. “I felt that my home had been invaded. I signed a petition. I’m and adult. I know why I signed the petition and I don’t want somebody telling me that I’m wrong.”
So what’s next for Fresno’s green and blue trash cans?
Over the next 30 days the signatures will go under the scrutinizing eye of City Clerk Yvonne Spence and Fresno County Clerk of Voters Brandi Orth.
Spence will check to see that the signature on each petition matches the printed name. The three-day job will take 10 temporary workers and may cost in the ballpark of $3,000.
The seven boxes will then be transferred to Orth’s office. County workers will enter the information into a database and compare petition signatures to those on file, which may that may cost up to up to $45,000.
The results will be sent to Spence who has the final say in whether the petition was successful.
But City Manager Mark Scott says that even if the petition goes to a vote and the deal is rejected, it’s his job to keep the city out of the red.
“That means we have to make cuts right away, because we don’t have enough time left in this fiscal year to make up the difference if we don’t start right away,” Scott said. “We’re waiting to see the outcome hoping that we go forward with the franchise and if we don’t we have to make cuts in other places that probably involves people losing jobs.”
Even if the city is successful in privatizing residential trash service it still would have five months to close a $5 million budget gap. Scott says even more cuts will be necessary if it doesn’t get the money from mid-valley.
Although it’s too early to tell, Scott expects cuts to come from the same places they have come from in recent years. Parks, public safety and programs like senior hot meals may get the short end of the stick.
But despite the uncertainty, opponents said they are glad the community came together on the issue leaving a clear message to city higher ups.
Magdaleno said: “You need to listen to the people of the city. You need to listen to the people especially when this is such an important decision that is going to affect our lives and our pocket books for eternity.”
If the petition drive is not successful residential trash service will switch to Mid Valley on March 4.