UPDATED 2:45 p.m. | Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he was “hugely skeptical” of privatizing garbage collection, a move some aldermen think would help close the city’s looming $3 million budget deficit.
The Bloomington City Council’s discussion Monday night on reducing solid waste services sparked interest in privatizing garbage collection altogether. That came as Interim City Manager Steven Rasmussen presented the council with potential cuts to several parts of the city budget. Aldermen are working to close the nearly $3 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins May 1.
Alderman Diana Hauman said she doesn't see trash services as a core responsibility for the city, like police and fire.
"There are a number of companies who do solid waste pickup," Hauman said. "That's something I don't feel we need to provide to our residents because that's something they can procure on their own."
Another option could be collecting garbage every eight or nine days instead of seven. Aldermen say they want to keep talking about garbage hauling next month.
Appearing Tuesday on GLT’s Sound Ideas, Renner said he thinks the best solution would be to raise waste-collection fees until the service pays for itself. He also said the city should consider eliminating the current variable fee structure based on the size of the customer’s garbage cart, ranging from $16 per month for a 35-gallon cart to $25 per month for a 95-gallon cart.
“I think what we ought to do what Normal does. Charge people for what it costs,” Renner said. “Take an enterprise fund and just balance the budget. This is what I’ve said for five years. I don’t know why this has to be such a complicated issue.”
Renner said the Bloomington City Council’s ward-based system is a complicating factor; the Normal Town Council is elected at-large, with all members representing the entire town. Some residents on the city’s east side are more interested in leaves and brush pickup, while others on the west side and central Bloomington are more concerned about bulk waste and illegal dumping, Renner said.
“I’m hugely skeptical of privatization,” Renner said. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be willing to look at the evidence.”
Hauman said the city would most likely still manage yard waste collection if it hands over solid waste management to another company.
Additional cuts include leaving unfilled city jobs vacant, raising parking garage fees and increasing new business registration fees. Public Works Director Jim Karch said several dozen workers could be affected.
"How that would affect them at this point we really don't know because, again, no decisions have been made by council," Karch said. "At this point, the city council is just trying to look at the possibilities, what would be the impacts."
Alderman Scott Black agreed to engage in further discussion but plans to vote against a measure to privatize solid waste collection.
"I don't want our employees to be constantly concerned about what we're going to do, and I also don't want to waste a bunch of staff time if we're truly not interested in exploring that option," Black said.
Black said the only way to get his support would be through code enforcement on dumping.
It is unclear how much money the city would save by forcing residents to contract for their own garbage renewal.
Welcoming City Ordinance
Meanwhile, the Bloomington City Council will vote on whether to adopt a Welcoming City ordinance Feb. 12 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Mayor Tari Renner said the ordinance was supposed to be on the regular agenda for Monday's meeting, but he was concerned about having enough space to house an audience and public comment participants.
The ordinance would prevent Bloomington Police from communicating with federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials on someone's immigration status without a warrant.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Renner:
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