Bloomington council votes down specific trash fee hike, but agrees increase is needed

On Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted down a proposal from mayor John Hamilton’s administration to increase monthly trash cart pickup fees by at least 58 percent.

The tally on the vote was 3–5. Dave Rollo was absent. Voting in favor were: Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

An amendment to the proposal to increase the fees—but by a smaller amount—also failed.

The amendment failed on 3–4 vote. Jim Sims abstained. Voting in favor of the amended proposal, which was sponsored by councilmember Sue Sgambelluri, were: Sgambelluri, Ron Smith, and Susan Sandberg.

That made 6 different councilmembers who cast a vote in support of at least some increase in trash cart fees.

Steve Volan can be added to the number of councilmembers who support an increase—because he co-sponsored an amendment with Matt Flaherty to increase trash cart fees by even more than the administration’s proposal.

Flaherty and Volan contemplated putting forward their amendment, but in the end did not. Factoring into Flaherty’s decision not to move his own amendment was some uncertainty expressed by public works director Adam Wason about the number of each cart size that the city currently has in service.

The city offers three different cart sizes—35-gallon, 64-gallon, and 96-gallon. The bigger the cart, the greater the monthly cost.

Given that 7 of 8 councilmembers present at Wednesday’s meeting are on the record in support of some kind of increase, it’s possible that the administration will put forward a different proposed increase when the council resumes meeting on July 26. Next week’s June 21 meeting is the final meeting before the council takes a break for the summer.

There was no appetite among councilmembers on Wednesday for postponing a vote on the price increase, with the idea of eventually sorting out among themselves an increase they could all support. Volan put it like this: “I don’t think that we have to keep this vehicle alive, to encourage the administration to bring us a new ordinance for first reading the Wednesday after recess in late July.”

The current pricing scheme in local law is defined as a range, for each cart size, with the exact amount decided by the three-member board of public works. Seats on the board of public works are all appointed by the mayor.

The current costs are set at the top of the range. Here’s a breakdown of the current prices, compared to the amounts in the administration’s proposed increase.

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.]

Two reasons were given for the proposed increase. One is to cover higher costs (fuel, materials, truck maintenance). The other reason is to reduce the amount of general fund money that is used to make up the gap between the revenue generated by fees and the cost of providing curbside pickup of trash and recycling.

On Wednesday, Wason pegged the annual cost of providing curbside trash pick up as between $1.4 million and $1.5 million, and for curbside recycling pickup somewhere between $1.1 million and $1.15 million.

Based on the information provided by Wason, the amount of general fund money that was used to cover curbside waste pickup (recycling and trash) in 2022 was $1.1 million.

The amendment sponsored by Sgambelluri was an option that was supposed to cover just increased costs, but not try to reduce the amount of general fund support.

The amendment crafted by Flaherty and Volan, which did not get a vote on Wednesday, was an option designed to eliminate general fund support incrementally over a five-year period.

Flaherty and Volan’s amendment was different from the administration’s proposal in two ways. First it relies on giving each cart size a fixed price, instead of a range, but spelling out the amount to be charged in each of the next five years. Second, it relies on the same cost per gallon for each cart size. The administration’s proposal assigns prices in a way that increases the cost per gallon for larger cart sizes.

Flaherty, Volan, Piedmont-Smith, and Rosenbarger analyze the general fund support of curbside trash and recycling collection as a subsidy for just those residents who receive the service—which is only residents of single-family houses and buildings with up to four dwelling units.

Councilmembers who don’t support trying to eliminate general fund support for trash collection see it as a basic city service, which provides a public benefit, a sanitary city, which extends to those who don’t receive the service.

The current prince ranges are shown in gray. The administration’s proposal is shown in green. Sgambelluri’s amendment is shown in orange. And Flaherty’s amendment is shown in purple.

One thought on “Bloomington council votes down specific trash fee hike, but agrees increase is needed

  1. They tried to bury the fee in the fine print and got caught. Oh well, wait six months and try again.

Comments are closed.