Will Bloomington move ahead with organized trash collection?

The ceremonial start of a potential campaign for, or against, organizing solid waste collection in Bloomington kicked off last week with an open house that raised plenty of questions, and the ire of more than a few people.

Bloomington officials have been discussing the merits of organizing the collection of residential trash, recyclables and organic material throughout the city, and as part of that process has been negotiating with representatives of the city’s seven licensed haulers. Last week a committee looking at the future of solid waste collection, and the city’s options for organizing it, held an open house at Bloomington’s public works building to share information about the proposal and collect comments regarding the plan.

Since late last year, city officials have been negotiating terms of an organized collection service under the guidance of a revised state statute that allows cities to do so. The city has several goals in organizing solid waste collection. Touted often is reducing the environmental impact of having seven licensed haulers navigating multiple trucks through the same neighborhood in order to collect trash, recyclables and yard waste each week.

Jim Gates discusses organized trash collection
Deputy Director of Public Works Jim Gates discusses how an organized solid waste collection system would work in Bloomington as Bloomington resident Mark Gilliland looks on during an April 23 open house. The Bloomington City Council will consider the negotiated rates proposed by the city’s seven licensed residential haulers during the council’s May 4 meeting. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)

One of the selling points of organizing collection is that a negotiated rate would lower the average cost residents pay for their solid waste services. Mayor Gene Winstead said that price is a significant factor in the decisions made by many Bloomington households, and the city’s negotiations with its licensed haulers have spanned more than four months in an effort to obtain a price structure city officials deem fair. That negotiation will result in the presentation of the final negotiated proposal to the Bloomington City Council at its May 4 meeting.

“It’s not a rate-only decision,” Winstead noted.

Reducing traffic, noise and pollution by the parade of trucks up and down city streets each week are among the goals of the city. Maintaining each hauler’s market share has also been a goal of the city’s negotiations, Winstead said.

Negotiations

The proposal that will come before the city council next week provides the city with a few options, such as a five- or seven-year contract term and weekly or bi-weekly recyclable collection.

The cost per month for weekly garbage and bi-weekly recyclable collection for households that have a small trash container (38 gallons or less) would be $15 per month. The cost for households that have a medium trash container (60-68 gallons) would be $17.90 per month. The cost for households with a large container (90-98 gallons) would be $20.90 per month.

It is estimated that about 17.5 percent of households in Bloomington have a small container, 46 percent have a medium container and 36.5 percent have a large container. Taking that split into consideration, the average monthly bill across the city would be $18.48 per month. That rate does not include a cost for yard waste collection or organics recycling.

Charts comparing the estimated rates households pay for their services now, and under a negotiated rate, show that the average monthly rate of $18.48 under organized collection would be more than $8 less than the average rate paid by residents today, which is $26.72, according to a survey of resident invoices by the city.

The survey shows many residents pay about $20 per month, and that most residents pay $30 or less per month, although some residents reported paying more than $50 per month. Conversely, there are many residents who pay $15-20 per month for their service, and a small percentage of residents pay $5-10 per month for their service.

The average monthly rates paid by Bloomington households, according to the city’s calculations, for trash collection are from $1.50 to more than $5 per month higher than the rates proposed by the haulers. For recycling, the average monthly household rate is $9.02 for bi-weekly service. Under the organized collection proposal, the haulers would collect recyclables for $3.67. And if the city council decides to institute a weekly recyclable collection service, the haulers proposed a monthly rate of $9.34.

The proposed rate for monthly yard waste collection is $6.63 per month, and organics recycling would be available at $2 per month.

Haulers have also proposed rates under the terms of a five-year contract, and the rates for trash collection are about 90 cents higher per month, which would result in a household average bill of $19.37.

Freedom of choice

Last week’s open house was organized by the Organized Collection Options Committee, a group of city officials and council members who have examined issues associated with organizing collection, and will recommend a direction to the council next week when the council meets to consider the final rate proposal offered by the haulers.

The committee held the open house to gather public comments about the proposal and to provide information about how organized collection would work. The open house drew a mix of supporters, opponents and others who were undecided as to whether they favor organized collection.

One group of opponents is attempting to organize a ballot initiative, putting the choice or organizing collection in the hands of voters rather than the city’s seven council members.

Joel Jennissen is part of the group spearheading the ballot initiative. At the moment the group is trying to get the wording of its petition approved by the city. When achieved, the group will need to collect signatures from 10 percent of the voting base from the last election in order to proceed with the initiative. The signatures must come from registered voters in Bloomington, and 10 percent of voters in the last election would result in approximately 1,400 signatures, according to Jennissen.

So why should a city decision be put to the voters instead of the seven council members the voters elected? Jennissen said that the decision the council is considering would take away his ability to do business with companies he has a choice to do business with today.

“I’m not okay with seven people deciding that, who know the majority of people who contact them are against it,” he said.

Jennissen cites city surveys showing that the majority of residents are happy with their solid waste service as evidence a change is not needed. Winstead disagrees that satisfaction with the service provided to residents means changes shouldn’t be considered.

City officials have received comments of concern regarding the increasing truck traffic on residential streets for years, according to Winstead. He hears more from people who are against the proposal than those who endorse it, he said, but noted that approximately one-third of the comments he hears are in support of rethinking the way garbage is collected. In some cases the comments ask, “What took you so long?”

Jennissen asked Winstead why the council wouldn’t consider simply putting the matter to a vote. Winstead wasn’t interested in basing operational and managerial decisions of the city on the outcome of a vote, or turning the matter into a popularity contest. “You have to use judgment to figure out what is best for the city of Bloomington,” he said.

Decisions

The council will have a variety of decisions to make throughout the process, the first of which could be the last.

The council will consider the negotiated rate proposal during its May 4 meeting. If the council accepts the proposal, it would proceed with implementation of organized collection, which would include a public hearing in August, with the potential start of organized collection in spring 2016.

The council could, however, abandon the plan at any time, including next week.

The council also has the option of rejecting the proposal terms and opening up organized collection to a competitive bid. Through negotiations, the seven licensed haulers have acted as a consortium and would retain their market shares by dividing the city’s collection service proportionately to its share today. Haulers would retain their market share, but residents would not decide which company provides their service under organized collection.

Under competitive bidding, the city may see lower rates that those being proposed by the consortium, but there’s no guarantee that haulers would be able to retain their market share.

Details about organized collection are available through the city’s website at bit.ly/2016trash.