Bloomington and Normal governments are doing the right thing by carefully studying whether privatizing garbage and solid waste pickup would save money, or whether the change would put an undue hardship on their residents.
In Normal, where the town already has researched the question, Mayor Chris Koos said the change wouldn't be worth it. "It would certainly help our budget to go private, but it would put the burden right on the taxpayer," he said in a recent Pantagraph story. "They would end up paying more for it ... and they would likely have a lower level of service."
Bloomington hasn't fully studied or discussed the idea of late, but Mayor Tari Renner already is against it, citing the possibility of future fee increases or poorer service if the city switched to a private hauler.
The rates currently charged by both cities do not cover the expenses, so both municipalities — both already facing sizable budget deficits — subsidize trash pick-up by more than $1 million each year. They could continue to do that, or could consider increasing rates or decreasing services.
In addition to regular weekly trash collection, Normal collects weekly bulky waste, brush and recycling at no extra charge. Bloomington has regular trash collection plus free recycling, brush pickup and an end-loader bucket of bulky waste every other week.
Private hauling is what is done in other nearby cities, including Springfield, Peoria, Champaign, Urbana and Decatur, but Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said it's hard to make a comparison with the Twin Cities because those haulers offer different services.
Residents in any city expect to receive basic utility service for water and sewer, and to use private companies for electric, gas, phone and cable service.
Depending on where you live, you may or may not be used to having municipal trash service. Often, the availability of the service is based on the size of the city: it's harder for a small city to provide all the employees and equipment necessary to pick up trash, or the workers assigned to trash pick-up also may work on other street crews. Equipment purchase and maintenance, regulatory training and paperwork, tipping fees and other less visible work adds to the cost.
Private contractors have the same costs, but have a free hand in what they charge in order to make a profit.
Bloomington and Normal governments are trying to do the right thing by looking at every line item to determine whether a service is needed, whether it can be restructured, or whether it should be cut. Just as families have to trim budgets when paychecks don't cover expenses, so do governments.
Careful study of expenses, and understanding the differences between needs and wants, can make those spending decisions more clear.