A new proposal to increase trash cart fees got a first reading at Wednesday’s meeting of the Bloomington city council.
The initial proposed increase, starting Jan. 1, 2024, would average about 35 percent across the three different cart sizes. In the five years after that, the yearly change settles into an increase of about 10 percent.
For someone who uses the mid-sized, 64-gallon cart, the initial monthly cost would increase from $11.61 to $16.00. That’s a 38-percent increase, which translates into about $53 more every year.
Next Wednesday (Aug. 2), the council will consider the proposal as a second reading, when it could get a final vote.
In mid-June, the council voted down a proposed trash fee increase. But that vote had more to do with the specifics of the administration’s proposal than a general opposition to all possible trash fee increases.
A new proposal had been expected from the administration on Wednesday, which was the first meeting after the council’s summer hiatus.
Still, for some councilmembers, the sentiment against increasing trash fees is strong. In a rare move on Wednesday, Ron Smith voted against the standard motion to introduce and read the ordinance by title and synopsis only.
Under Bloomington city code that motion is supposed to require unanimous consent. It’s a procedural point that was glossed over on Wednesday night. It was only the title and synopsis of the ordinance that were read aloud by the deputy clerk.
The policy question for the council is how much, if any, general fund support the city’s sanitation division should receive—for the curbside collection of recycling and trash.
According to the city’s public works department, the fees currently collected for the curbside waste collection operation leave a shortfall of about $1 million a year. The proposed schedule of increases over the next half decade are meant to cover a projected increase in costs of around 3 percent, in addition to ratcheting down the amount of general fund support.
Councilmembers Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, Steve Volan, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, have framed the issue as one of equity—between residents who live in buildings with four or fewer units (including single-family houses), and those who live in larger multi-family buildings.
Bloomington offers curbside waste collection service only to buildings with four or fewer units. Currently, that operation gets general fund support to make up for whatever the trash cart fees don’t cover. That allows residents to pay less for curbside waste collection than they would otherwise have to pay, if the fees covered the whole cost. The argument goes like this: That’s not equitable, because residents of multi-family buildings are not being provided with a similar amount of support to defray their costs.
Smith takes the view that the curbside collection of waste for some residents amounts to a general benefit to all residents, because it means a safe and sanitary environment for everyone, including residents of multi-family buildings.
Other councilmembers have pointed to the fact the city can clearly afford the general fund support of curbside waste collection, especially after the city council voted to increase the local income tax in May of 2022.
The administration’s new proposal for a trash cart fee increase is conceptually different from the one put forward in June.
The new proposal specifies an exact cart price for each year in the schedule—instead of a range of prices for each cart size. The current Bloomington code lays out a range of prices. Within that range, it’s the three-member board of public works that has to approve the specific price. The current prices are at the top of the range for each cart size.
The administration’s June proposal also relied on the concept of a range. By eliminating the range, the board of public works is taken out of mix. It’s the city council that would have to approve any change to the pricing schedule, if economic conditions changed dramatically.
By using a specific pricing schedule instead of a range, the administration’s new proposal mirrors an amendment that had been drafted in June by Flaherty and Volan. During deliberations at the council’s June 14 meeting, the two did not put their amendment forward. Flaherty pointed to some remaining uncertainty about how many trash carts are actually deployed across the city.
The dollar amounts in the administration’s new proposal are also the same as those in Flaherty and Volan’s amendment from June. But the administration has added one additional year to the schedule.
Another conceptual difference in the new proposal, compared to the one put forward in June is the cost per gallon for each of the cart sizes. In the June proposal, the cost per gallon was larger for larger cart sizes. In the new proposal, the cost per gallon is the same for each cart size.
Tables: Proposed Trash Cart Fee Increases (Ord 23-14)