Two Bloomington aldermen looking for feedback to close a nearly $3 million budget gap answered more questions than received input Tuesday about proposed staff options including privatizing solid waste collection.
Residents spent about 45 minutes asking questions not related to staff proposals to wipe out a projected deficit in a new budget that takes effect May 1.
Options offered by the staff include service cuts, a hiring freeze and not filling open positions, plus raising service and parking fees among others. Keeping city brush collection appears to be more of a concern than the possibility that budget cuts could force garbage crews to work late at night in residential neighborhoods. A proposal from Public Works Director Jim Karch included scaling back brush collection from once every two weeks to once a month.
Resident Jim Williams endorsed a moderate approach rather than a huge overhaul of the city's solid waste services.
"Maybe we can increase the fees moderately, but let's keep in mind we're in a great community and let's not start messing around with trashy looking places and streets," he said.
Karch has also proposed running two garbage collection crews daily to reduce the cost of expensive leases for the city's current fleet. That could have some trucks running in residential neighborhoods as late at 10 p.m. The entire solid waste proposal, which would also limit bulk waste collections to a couple of times a year, would save the city an estimated $1.1 million without taking the more drastic approach of privatizing collections.
Alderman Jamie Mathy was surprised how strongly people felt about brush collection.
"People were far more concerned about brush pickup than late-night garbage pickup. As long as the trash pickup was still happening people were like, 'Yeah I can live with that,'" he said.
Resident Mike Fitzgerald was one of the few who spoke to specific recommendations. He agreed with a stricter approach to collecting unpaid revenue which the city staff estimates at $25,000. Fitzgerald, who served in the military, believes in taking a hard line with employees to collect outstanding fees, fines and taxes.
"They're not being collected and when you take a look and ask why, (the response is) 'Well, we don't have the folks to do it.' Well, my response to that is, 'What is the function of your department?'"
Alderman Diana Hauman was clear she is not in favor of requiring businesses to pay a fee to register with the city.
"A fee is not friendly to business," she told the gathering of about 30. However, she and Mathy think the requirement to register is an important function for safety purposes.
Mathy says, for example, having a registration on file would help police and fire easily contact the business owner of record regarding emergency-related issues such as boarding up a building after a fire.
The Bloomington City Council will take up budget talks again at its Feb. 12 meeting.
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