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.
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.
|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|
|Proposed Price Range||35||$10.31||58.37%||$12.37||90.02%||.2946||.3534|
[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.]