NORMAL — Normal residents can expect their solid waste collection bills to nearly double over the next three-plus years.
The 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 fight a looming budget deficit.
Those increases would move the town's solid waste collection program from operating constantly in the red to breaking even, and it still would compare favorably to private services that offer similar rates, said City Manager Mark Peterson.
"A lot of folks probably don't understand this is subsidized," said council member R.C. McBride. "We're working toward eliminating that subsidy inside of four years."
Mayor Chris Koos said the town could consider reducing trash collection services or contracting them to a private company, but council members said they oppose both options.
"To do anything different than what we're doing is inviting chaos. We've established an expectation of high service," said council member Jeff Fritzen. "Who wants to go backward for $12 a month?"
Peterson said cutting services is a complicated process as well. For instance, going from weekly to biweekly collection would not halve fees, and there are several categories of waste to consider, including bulky and yard waste.
"Privatization in this instance I think is a terrible idea. ... I don't think there's any way we could expect a similar level of service for anywhere near a similar cost," said McBride. "(Residents) are probably going to wind up paying more for less ... and we'll still be the ones getting the complaints."
"Any variation of this is not going to be popular," agreed Koos. "We're telling the public one of two things: We're going to raise the cost of your services, or we're going to raise the cost of your services and cut your services."
Peterson said the town is making a concession, however: It will default to monthly billing rather than bimonthly, a frequent resident request. Residents also can pay online.
"That's going to make it easier in a household budgeting situation to deal with that (increase)," said Fritzen.
The council also discussed more community-based options like drop-off locations for waste and leaf-burning that could drive down costs, but Peterson said those don't solve the immediate funding issue the town is facing.
The increase is the latest in a series of cost increases for Normal residents. Sewer rates will more than double over the next five years as part of a planned overhaul of the decaying system, water rates increased last year and sales tax went up by a percentage point on Jan. 1, 2016.
"I'm not happy about having to pay more myself or having to raise these rates, but I do think it's the right thing to do," said McBride.