Fee increase: Trash talk for Bloomington city council to start, but not end, on June 7

The first reading of an ordinance that would increase trash collection fees by at least 58 percent got its first reading at Wednesday night’s Bloomington city council meeting.

Sanitation worker uses a mechanical arm to empty a Bloomington solid waste cart. Screengrab from city of Bloomington video.

Under Bloomington local law, no discussion of an ordinance by the city council is allowed on the occasion of a first reading.

The trash collection fee increase would ordinarily be up for a second reading and possible enactment by the city council at its next regular meeting, which falls on June 7.

But on Wednesday, Bloomington city council president Sue Sgambelluri announced she was referring the ordinance to the council’s committee-of-the-whole, for which she set a meeting on June 7, starting at 8 p.m.

No action on the fee increase can be taken at the committee-of-the-whole meeting.

The council’s regular meeting for June 7 starts at 6:30 p.m., but Sgambelluri indicated that she expects the business for that regular meeting to be wrapped up by 8 p.m. when the committee of the whole is set to convene.

It’s not clear at this point when the council will take a vote on the increase. Regular meetings are scheduled for June 14 and June 21. 

The question of whether to convene committee-of-the-whole meetings—as a part of the ordinary legislative process—has been a contentious issue since the current edition of the city council was sworn in, at the start of 2020. For this year, the council had been following a calendar that calls for regular meetings on each of the first three Wednesdays of the month, but without any committee-of-the-whole meetings.

Sgambelluri’s announcement of the June 7 committee-of-the-whole meeting, reflected a departure from the scheduling compromise that has kept the peace so far this year. But on Wednesday, there was no pushback.

The lack of any objection to a June 7 committee-of-the-whole meeting can be chalked up to a general understanding by councilmembers that the ordinance on trash collection fees will be contentious, especially given the size of the proposed increase. For those residents who use the most popular, medium-sized (64-gallon) cart, the increase is proposed at around 75 percent of the current rate.

Steve Volan, who can be counted as the council’s staunchest critic of using a committee of the whole in the legislative process, appeared willing to accept its use this time around, without protest.

Use of the committee-of-the-whole is one way the council can give the topic discussion, without any risk that a final vote will be taken.

Another wrinkle for the scheduling of the trash collection fee increase is that Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL) prohibits a councilmember from participating in a meeting electronically—that is, over Zoom—if the council is trying to take action on specific topics. Those topics include adoption of a budget, reducing personnel, establishing a penalty, imposing or increasing a tax, or increasing a fee.

In city code, monthly trash cart prices are set as a range. The city council sets the range. The board of public works has to approve the price within that range. The current prices charged by the city are at the top of the range currently specified in the city’s local code.

In any case, when the council takes a final vote on the question of a trash cart fee increase, councilmembers will not be able to use Zoom to participate in that meeting. That could prove to be a barrier to Dave Rollo’s participation, who on Wednesday was out of state on a family matter, and participated in the meeting on Zoom.

Volan told Rollo he thinks the council will want to take a lot of time on the topic, saying, “I believe that this is a significant enough issue that we’re going to want the extra time.” Volan continued saying, “It’s complicated. We have a lot to talk about.” Volan said he would support not taking up the trash collection fees for a second reading and a possible final vote until June 21—that’s even though the council has a regular meeting on the calendar for June 14.

Among the policy questions confronting the council for trash collection fees is whether the price increase should cover the cost of curbside recycling collection, in addition to trash collection.

Currently, cart fees fall short of paying for the total cost of trash collection. That incremental difference is subsidized from the general fund. Also subsidized from the general fund is the cost of curbside recycling collection. Not charging customers for the curbside recycling service has up to now been a conscious policy choice.

Under Bloomington’s sanitation ordinance, only residents who live in single-family houses and other buildings with up to four units, are provided the service of curbside waste collection. Residents who live in larger buildings don’t get any curbside waste collection service—even though they pay income taxes and indirect property taxes (through their rent), which lands in the general fund.

The proposed fee increases would put the city on a path towards using cart fees to cover all curbside waste collection.

Another policy question raised by the proposed fee increase is whether the rate structure should be progressive—with a higher cost-per-gallon for bigger carts. The proposed fee increase uses that kind of rate structure.

Table of Ord 23-11 Proposed Trash Cart Fees (current prices = top of current range)
Container Size in Gallons Bottom-end Price Bottom-end % Increase over now Top-end
Top-end % Increase over now Bottom-end $ per gallon Top-end $ per gallon
Current Price Range 35 $4.82 NA $6.51 NA .1377 .186
64 $8.60 NA $11.61 NA .1344 .1814
96 $13.72 NA $18.52 NA .1429 .1929
Proposed Price Range 35 $10.31 58.37% $12.37 90.02% .2946 .3534
64 $20.42 75.88% $24.50 111.02% .3191 .3828
96 $36.19 95.41% $43.43 134.50% .377 .4524

[The color coding of the rows is meant to highlight the rank order of the cost per gallon: red is most expensive, yellow is the middle, and green is the least expensive.]

Ord 23-11 with revised title.pdf
Ord 23-11 with original title.pdf
Ord 23-11 city staff memo.pdf
Ord 23-11 council staff memo.pdf
2022 sanitation budget memo for 2023.pdf

2 thoughts on “Fee increase: Trash talk for Bloomington city council to start, but not end, on June 7

  1. heh just as an analytical question i wonder if gallon is the best way to measure capacity. before Hamilton, i had a 32 gallon can that was roughly a cylinder, 19 inches in diamater x 28 inches tall. and i could fit sometimes fit 3 trash bags in it (“tall kitchen”, nominally 13 gallon). it depended on how full i had filled the bags, and with what. but my average was probably 2.5 or so.

    now the city “35 gallon” trash can is kind of an 15×19″ rectangle x 33 inches tall, with some space taken out in the bottom for the wheels. and i don’t know about everyone else but i can only fit two trashbags in it. and sometimes even that is a struggle. it’s taller but the bags just stack on top of eachother and can’t pack in beside eachother even a little bit.

    i have no idea what it’s like to load up one of the “64 gallon” bins but i wonder if they don’t hold more than twice as many bags (5+) since the bigger rectangle lets them pack better?

    you know, bag capacity instead of fluid capacity

    i am not complaining — i make up for it by bringing it to the curb more often. now that it’s flat rate i put it out more often for sure.

  2. Can I switch out my can for a smaller one because with the one I have I only put it out every other week with the price increase I can’t afford the big one on my social security check

Comments are closed.