2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund

Some Bloomington residents could soon see significant increases in their trash collection fees.

But trash cart fees are laid out in city code, separate from the city budget.

So the city council’s upcoming decisions on the city’s 2023 budget will not affect trash collection fees.

Any decision to increase trash cart fees would come later in the year, in the form of a separate ordinance change enacted by the city council.

And Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2023 budget does not assume any increase in trash cart collection fees.

The city council could choose not to enact a trash cart fee increase, and there would still be enough money in the budget to keep the trash collection service running. That’s because the 2023 proposed budget includes about $1.4 million in support from the city’s general fund.

Table: Sanitation Budget Breakdown (2023 budget proposal

Category General Fund Solid Waste Fund Total
1 Personnel Services $0 $1,915,269 $1,915,269
2 Supplies $284,072 $284,072
3 Other services $1,419,146 $1,186,431 $2,605,577
4 Capital $0 $0
Total $1,419,146 $3,385,772 $4,804,918

It’s that general fund support that causes concern for some city councilmembers.

That concern is based on a notion of basic equity. Trash collection service in Bloomington is offered only to residential properties with four or fewer units, which includes single-family houses.

But residents of multi-family units also contribute to the general fund, by paying rent, which landlords use in part to pay property taxes, which are deposited into the general fund. Residents of multi-family units also contribute to the general fund by paying local income tax.

That means some of the tax dollars contributed to the general fund by residents of multi-family buildings are used to defray the cost of trash collection service for residents of buildings with four units or fewer, including single-family houses.

At the departmental budget presentation on Sept. 1, councilmember Matt Flaherty put it like this: “Putting that [general fund support] to a portion of the community to make their trash bill cheaper when everybody else is still paying full cost full market rate for their trash services. So that’s the inequity.”

Flaherty added, “Compounding that is that the group that gets the discount is disproportionately wealthier and whiter than the whole of Bloomington.”

Flaherty prefaced his remarks giving some historical background to his efforts to eliminate general fund support for trash collection: “I spoke with the mayor about it maybe a year or year and a half ago. And he agreed quite quickly that it was inequitable, that this is a problem.”

The support from some councilmembers for a trash cart rate increase, in order to eliminate general fund support for trash collection, has been cited by the mayor and city staff as the reason the proposal is on the table.

At this past week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on Wednesday, councilmember Jim Sims rejected the idea that an increase to trash cart price increases is in any way “the will of the council.” Sims said, “It’s the will of some of my colleagues—I’ll give you that.”

At the same meeting, councilmember Ron Smith was clear in his opposition to the idea of eliminating general fund support for trash collection. He quipped, “So I just ask that the mayor would trash this idea.”

Under Bloomington city code, private waste haulers are not be able to collect trash from residential buildings with four units or fewer. And according to public works director Adam Wason, a Bloomington resident can’t opt out of trash collection from the city—they’ll be charged the amount for the smallest cart size, if they don’t choose one of the three sizes.

How much of an increase would be needed, to eliminate the general fund support? The idea is to stretch the increases over a three-year period. At his departmental budget presentation in early September, Wason gave the following as a possibility for a Year 1 increase for the three different cart sizes:

  • 35 gallons: increase from $6.51 to $9.75 (50% more)
  • 64 gallons: increase from $11.61 to $18.25 (57% more)
  • 96 gallons: increase from $18.52 to $31.50 (70% more)

The city does not charge for recycling carts. The city uses separate trucks to collect recycling and trash.

In response to an emailed B Square question, Wason indicated that the cost of the recycling service is part of the total cost that the city is looking to make independent of general fund support.

Recycling pickup is a service that residents of multi-family buildings generally don’t get from the private waste haulers who service those buildings.

How much does the city’s trash collection work actually cost? And how does that stack up against the cost for the recycling service?

Wason responded to a B Square question with the following breakdown for trash and recycling collection:

Table: 2021 Actual Costs for Recycling and Trash Pickup

Category Recycle Trash Total
Labor $689,565 $742,132 $1,431,697
Disposal $360,471 $360,471
Supplies $68,820 $68,820 $137,640
Fuel $59,627 $59,627 $119,255
Processing $93,603 $93,603
Grand Total $911,616 $1,231,050 $2,142,666

Trash collection costs more. But the biggest difference comes in the lines for the cost of disposal in a landfill, compared to payment to a processor of recycling material. That’s not surprising, because the biggest part of the cost associated with curbside pickup of any material is the cost to pay people to do the work and for fuel to run the trucks.

How much revenue does the city currently get from trash cart fees? According to the dataset in the city’s B Clear data portal, in 2021 the city received $1,529,406 in trash cart fee revenue.

At least at first glance, it looks like trash cart fee revenue is enough to pay for trash collection. But those trash cart revenues won’t cover the recycling service, which in 2021 cost $911,616.

Of course, the cost of the recycling service and trash collection services are linked. The cost of trash collection is currently less than it would be without the recycling service.

Based on city data, in 2021 Bloomington paid $93,603 to get 3,629.73 tons of single-stream recycling material processed. And Bloomington paid $360,471 to landfill 8,260.53 tons of trash.

At the same rate per ton of landfill disposal, the 3,629.73 tons of single-stream recycling material in 2021 would have cost 158,393 instead of $93,603, or $64,790 more.

Beyond the cost of disposal, there would be some additional costs associated with trash collection, if just trash collection service were offered, without recycling service. For example, due to the greater volume of trash (material that residents would have otherwise recycled), the trucks would fill up faster, so it would take longer to run a trash collection route than it does now.

How would the total cost for trash collection plus recycling service compare to trash collection, if no recycling service were offered?

Responding to an emailed question from The B Square, Wason wrote, “This isn’t easily discernible given all of the factors at play.”

3 thoughts on “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund

  1. Student renters produce far more trash than adult renters and homeowners. Every year they move out and throw away all the crap they bought from Target in the fall, and then the next cohort comes in to do it all over again. And they rarely bother to sort their recycling properly and instead treat their recycling carts as extra trash cans. Why do the owners of SFH rental properties get a pass on this irresponsible management?

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