SAN BERNARDINO • Rifts are emerging between cities and San Bernardino County as the county works to cut costs and raise revenues to close a $13.3 million budget deficit at its struggling Solid Waste Division.

The county's landfill system processes about 35 percent less refuse than in 2007, when the economy was stronger and more construction was taking place in the region.

At a closed-door meeting last week between Barstow officials, officials from other affected cities and county representatives, there was strong opposition to closing landfills among the cities, Barstow City Council member Tim Saenz said.

Saenz said one solution would be for the county to raise rates on residents of unincorporated areas of the county instead of the cities.

Those customers currently pay a flat rate of $68 per year for landfill service, Saenz said. Raising their rates by $17 — a 25 percent increase — would close the budget gap, Saenz said.

It would be more difficult to raise rates on county users because the increase would be subject to Proposition 218, the 1996 ballot initiative that limits fee increases for government services without voter approval.

If the county increased rates for cities instead, Saenz said, it was considered a "pass-through" increase and would not be subject to voter approval.

Saenz said the cities suggested the county first look at ways to avoid closures, by possibly reducing hours or raising fees.

Rex Richardson, public information officer for the Solid Waste Division, said talk of raising rates was highly speculative.

"Something has to be done to put us back in the black," Richardson said, "and we want to work with our system partners to figure out what the solutions might be."

Richardson said the county's Solid Waste Advisory Task Force will meet April 18 at 1:30 p.m. at the Sam J. Racadio Library & Environmental Learning Center in Highland and will likely consider the issue. Ultimately, any change would have to be voted on by the Board of Supervisors, a move which could be months away, Richardson said.

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