BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington's city staff will draft a resolution about outsourcing the city's solid waste program to a private vendor, but that doesn't mean the City Council is headed in that direction as it explores ways to close a $2.9 million budget deficit for fiscal 2019.
Aldermen unanimously agreed In a straw poll at Monday night's council meeting to give interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen the green light to bring such a resolution to the council. That would allow the council to take a definitive vote on it.
"That's a way of laying it rest," Rasmusssen told the council after Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black suggested the resolution, even though Black said he would vote against it.
"If the council votes that they don't want to do that then we know we can come back with some other options," said Rasmussen. "Is there enthusiasm on the part of the council to do that? If so we can come back (with the resolution) at the next council meeting (Feb. 12)."
"If it doesn't get the votes then we know we won't go in that direction," he added. "If it does then we can at least explore it. Frankly it doesn't commit you to do that."
Rasmussen said he has had several private companies ask about whether the city was interested in privatizing its garbage collection services.
Prior to the straw poll, Bloomington Public Works Director Jim Karch told the council solid waste collection costs the city about $7.4 million a year. After fee revenue, the city needs to fill a $1.1 million gap, which is roughly a third of the total budget deficit, he said.
Karch presented the council with three options to close that gap: increase fees, reduce service levels or outsource the program to a private vendor.
"Between personnel savings, vehicle savings and increased bulky waste collection charges at the curb, we should be able to fill that $1.1 million gap between the cost of delivering services and revenue collected," Karch told The Pantagraph before the meeting.
Karch said he wanted to focus on "reducing service levels to stay within the current fees" for weekly collection of trash and recyclable items.
Under that option, bulky waste would be collected at the curbside once in the spring and once in the fall instead of on the current schedule of every other week.
To help offset that, the city could expand hours when residents could drop off bulky waste at the drop-off facility at Jackson and East streets and make it free of charge, said Karch.
Those wanting immediate collection of bulky waste at the curb could call the city and arrange for a pickup for a fee to be determined by the council.
Karch was among several city department heads who spoke at the council's meeting about nine options for closing the deficit in the city's proposed $214 million budget for fiscal 2019, which begins May 1.
In June 2015, the city changed its bulky waste pickup from weekly to every other week, with the first end-loader bucket of bulky waste free and additional buckets $25 each. The same fee structure currently applies to people using the city drop-off facility.
When that change was made the city was looking at a $2.4 million deficit on an $8 million solid waste program.
Bloomington's trash collection fee is based on the size of the garbage cart. The monthly fees are $16 for 35 gallons, $21 for 65 gallons and $25 for 95 gallons, and the fees include free recycling, brush pickup and the first end-loader bucket of bulky waste every other week.
The Normal City Council plans to raise the town's $18 monthly solid waste collection fee to $24 on April 1, the first of a series of annual hikes ending at $32 in 2021, to help close a $4.25 million annual gap in its $102.5 million budget. In addition to trash, Normal collects weekly bulky waste, brush and recycling at no extra charge.
The Bloomington City Council could consider reducing brush collection to once a month, once a quarter or on demand, said Karch.
Karch said savings also could come from cutting the city's garbage and recycling collection teams from three to two, running a morning shift and an evening shift.
That change could result in a reduction of four automated garbage vehicles, each ranging in cost from $325,000 to $360,000, said Karch, adding the reduction of equipment could result in annual savings on equipment payoffs.
"The (labor) union has been clear that none of these are recommended from their perspective," said Karch. "They definitely like the service level that we are at.
"The city manager and mayor have asked that there be no (staff) layoffs as a result of reducing the service levels," said Karch.
The department could reorganize to have more of its 35 full-time solid waste employees move to street repairs, where there is a lot of need, said Karch.
The council did not act on any of the options.
Rasmussen said he will use feedback from the council about the options to develop the fiscal 2019 budget proposal that he plans to present to the council Feb. 26.