By David Grau
Ventura County Taxpayers Association
The Ventura Regional Sanitation District is an enterprise public agency that provides landfill services for solid waste, water and wastewater services within Ventura County. Operating revenue is generated by various contracts with public agencies.
VRSD is governed by a board of directors that include city council members from Camarillo, Fillmore, Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Thousand Oaks and Ventura.
The district has been operating the Toland Road Landfill at a loss for years. While operating at a loss, the directors have been reluctant to increase waste disposal rates or reduce costs, and have instead been covering losses by dipping into reserves.
The Ventura County Taxpayers Association reviewed VRSD financial statements and determined that the public landfill used $9.3 million of cash reserves over the current and two prior fiscal years, to cover ongoing losses at the public landfill.
In a letter to the city of Oxnard Public Works & Transportation Committee dated Jan. 12, 2021, the district stated “instead of increasing waste disposal rates, which would eventually be passed all the way down to Ventura County rate payers, the VRSD Board of Directors chose to increase tonnage deliveries at Toland Road Landfill in order to address VRSD revenue requirements.”
The directors appear to say: We lose money on every ton, but we make it up with additional volume.
The Ventura County Taxpayers Association found no plan to address losses at the Toland Road Landfill. While the District should restructure (that is, increase) its inadequate rate recovery system and address operating inefficiencies, the district instead continues using dwindling reserves as a piggy bank, in violation of policy, to cover operating losses.
In the same Jan. 12 letter, district staff disclosed that if Toland Road were to lose tonnage from Oxnard, then “VRSD will likely have to declare a fiscal emergency and cease or drastically curtail most operations in less than two years,” and “this could have an almost immediate catastrophic cost consequence for many county businesses and residents.”
District directors are politicians, and politicians can only make political decisions, not economic ones. Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good right now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences, even when those consequences can be easily foreseen.
The gathering disaster of using reserves to cover ongoing losses and inefficiencies at the public landfill has been obvious for years, but politics prevented needed reforms. District directors must come up with a plan to establish an adequate pricing policy, bring spending down and regain rate payer and public trust.
Absent that, the district should put politics aside and consider selling or give the Toland Road Landfill to someone who can operate it profitably, before taxpayers are on the hook for a large bailout.
• David Grau is president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association.