BLOOMINGTON — Rather than replacing the city's solid waste workers with private garbage haulers, the City Council directed the city staff to explore raising solid waste fees and finding cost savings in garbage, bulky waste, brush and leaf collections.
The council's 5-3 decision at a special meeting Monday prior to the council's regular session had city solid waste workers breathing a sigh of relief. Aldermen Jamie Mathy of Ward 1, David Sage of Ward 2 and Karen Schmidt of Ward 6 cast the dissenting votes; Ward 8 Alderman Diana Hauman was absent.
"We're excited. We feel like this is something that should be taken off the table," said Adam Smith after the meeting. He is an 11-year city solid waste employee and president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 699.
"We do a good job and we feel like we can do it better than everybody else," said Smith. "It's important to all of us ... and job security helps morale. There's not a lot of morale (in the solid waste division of the public works department). Hopefully, this will be a small step in building that."
The union representing the city's 35 solid waste employees vowed to fight efforts to possibly replace them with private haulers.
Instead of voting the outsourcing option up or down, the council acted on Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas' motion for service changes to create greater efficiency and raise fees.
"I don't know what that would look like necessarily, but (have staff) bring us their best options," she said.
Her motion did not contain any specific recommendations, such as those presented by Karch.
Designated as an enterprise fund in the city budget, solid waste collection is supposed to be self-funded by user fees, but the chronically insufficient revenue is projected to leave a $1.1 million gap in the $7.4 million program for fiscal 2019.
To plug the gap, Karch proposed increasing monthly residential trash cart fees, which range from $16 to $25 now, by $2 to $4 for the fiscal year beginning May 1. Karch suggested raising the fees another $1 to $2 in fiscal 2020; and follow that each year with a 3 percent annual fee increase.
The proposed fee increases would cover the actual cost of the service, which runs about $26 a month per customer on average, and build a reserve for the fund, said Karch.
Karch also asked the council to consider reducing the frequency of bulk waste and brush collections while maintaining current service levels for garbage, recycling and leaves and consolidate garbage and recycling pickup into two shifts.
"We provide a good level of service," said Smith. "I think if they decrease the service in the way they talked about it will affect the way the town looks."
The council decided on a mix of the later two options, and therefore avoided voting on the outsourcing proposal.
Karch said the city would not know the actual cost and services private solid waste vendors might provide without seeking requests for proposals.
Sage said he favored seeking proposals from private vendors because "we won't know until we do that initial due diligence to find actually the cost versus service and what the return on investment might be," he said.