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BLOOMINGTON — The City Council has some new recommendations to consider when it addresses an anticipated a shortfall of more than $2 million in Bloomington's solid waste program.

"What we make is $5.5 million. That makes us $2.5 million short," said Assistant City Manager Steve Rasmussen of the $8 million program.

As a possible remedy, Rasmussen, during a work session prior to the council's regular meeting Monday night, suggested the council no longer allow residents to select their cart sizes.

Currently residents can choose from three cart sizes, which cost from $16 to $20 per month. For the two largest sizes, rates are set to increase in May and again in May 2016.

Instead, Rasmussen suggested determining cart sizes based on household sizes: a 35-gallon cart at $16 per month for a one-person household; a 65-gallon cart at $20 per month for a two-person household; and a 95-gallon cart at $23 per month for households with three or more people. 

If approved by the council, proposed rates would be effective May 1. 

New customers would pay a one-time fee of $60 to purchase the cart. If they drop out of the program, the city would buy the cart back to sell to other customers, Rasmussen said.

Previously, the council agreed to subsidize the program this year with $1.2 million from the general fund.

The program was designed by the council to operate as an enterprise program, which means that fees should cover the costs of expenses.

Because the number of city residents opting to take the cheapest of three trash cart sizes  — a 35-gallon cart, fixed at $16 per month — was nearly triple the estimate, scheduled increases in the refuse fee won't create enough revenue to meet expenses.

The city's bulky waste collections also are contributing to the solid waste program's financial shortfall.

Bulk waste, which include furniture, appliances, other materials and brush and leaves, is the most expensive component and accounts for more than 50 percent of the solid waste program's costs, according to city Finance Director Patti-Lynn Silva. 

Rasmussen recommended the city start charging for all bulk and brush pickup and letting market demand determine the service level. A fee of $25 per end-loader bucket would begin to address the budget shortfall and would fit into most people's ability to pay, Rasmussen said.

He also asked the council to consider approving subsidizing the solid waste program with $500,000 from the general fund during fiscal year 2016.

New trash carts were introduced in 2014 after the city spent a year or more studying how to change its fee structure and transition to automated pickup.

A date for the council to act on the matter was not set.

Aldermen agreed they wanted to talk with their constituents about the new recommendations and then discuss it further at another work session, which also was not scheduled.

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Bloomington Reporter

Bloomington reporter for The Pantagraph.

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