On Dec. 7, City Council members discussed several options to reduce the cost or increase the revenue for solid-waste disposal. Although Interim Public Works Director Suzette Eggleston presented several options – changing work schedules for City crews, modifying the City’s role in refuse and recycling pickups, outsourcing the operations entirely, and charging higher fees for the services – discussion homed in on what role City crews would play in solid-waste disposal and how much the City would charge for services.

Aldermen reached consensus on charges for yard-waste (leaves, grass clippings, etc.) disposal – a choice of $1.75 per bag or a flat rate of $25 per season for all yard-waste pickups. They also recommended that City staff issue requests for proposals for private haulers of refuse to do pickups at single-family residences.

Because the Dec. 7 meeting was of the five-member Administration and Public Works Committee to which the other Council members had been invited, City Council must vote on the recommendations. 

Present Services and Projected Costs

The City projects it will spend more than $5 million next year on solid-waste disposal, which includes weekly emptying of garbage carts at single-family residences, special pickups, twice-yearly bulk pickups, tire pickups and seasonal yard-waste pickups. All refuse and recycling charges for single-family residences appear on the water/sewer bill.

Groot picks up the recycling from single-family residences and also handles recycling and refuse pickups from condominium buildings and businesses.

At present, the City charges $6.95 per household per month for refuse and recycling pickups (and $2.95 per household per month for each additional cart), generating nearly $1.7 per year in fees. The remaining amount of the total $5.2 million cost – about $3.5 million annually – is paid from the General Fund, the City’s main operating budget.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said at the Nov. 23 meeting of the Administration and Public Works Committee that he would like to see “savings through efficiencies and additional revenues through the adjustment of fees” so that within the next three years,refuse and recycling collection fees would equal expenditures.

Options

Ms. Eggleston presented four options to the APW Committee last month.

• Under Option 1, the City would modify work schedules to reduce overtime and eliminate one refuse truck and two now-vacant full-time-equivalent employee positions.

• The second option, called “Option 1.5,” offers a range of increases in fees for recycling and refuse pickups.

• The third option, “Option 2,” calls for hiring a private contractor for solid-waste disposal and having City crews pick up recycling. 

• “Option 3,” the final option, calls for outsourcing of all solid-waste disposal operations, which Ms. Eggleston said would reduce the operational costs by about $455,000 per year. 

Closing the Recycling Center

Ms. Eggleston also recommended closing the recycling center on Oakton Street. She presented figures showing that on Saturdays in October of this year there were 197 users, 73 of whom were from Evanston, 96 of whom were from Chicago and 28 of whom were from other suburbs. A total of 63 percent of the users in that sample were non-Evanstonians, she said.

Closing the recycling center would save the City about $75,000 annually, according to City figures: $35,000 saved by the elimination of one refuse truck; and $40,000 now paid for collections and utilities.

Option 2

City staff members recommended “Option 2” – outsourcing refuse pickup and having City crews pick up recycling. This option could save the City money by reducing wear and tear on the trucks and on the crew members, thus reducing expenses for fleet services and workman’s compensation, she said. In addition, Ms. Eggleston said, if the City concentrated on recycling efforts, it could expand its programs to include the recycling of electronics.

No full-time-equivalent positions would be lost, she said, but the four present vacancies would not be filled, and two seasonal workers, who would be laid off at the end of the season, would not be rehired.

On Dec. 7 Ms. Eggleston recommended two tiers of charges for garbage pickups. The private contractor would provide either 65-gallon or 95-gallon garbage carts to residents. Charges proposed for emptying the smaller carts would be $6.95 per household per month – which is the current charge – and $10.95 per month for the larger carts, she said. The contractor would also charge for services that the City now provides at no extra cost, she said. 

Reaction

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “What I like about Option 2 is that it builds really good policy. In the future we will minimize refuse and increase recycling.”

Not all the other aldermen were so positive. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she would like for quality-control measures and sanctions to be a part of any contract with a private hauler and asked City staff “to get … [examples of] quality-control clauses and copies of contracts [used by other municipalities].”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I don’t believe for one minute that a contractor is going to provide that service.” She also said she thought many people would take the smaller garbage cart because it cost less but not be able to fit all their garbage into it, “and we’re going to have a garbage problem.”

Alderman Lionel Jean Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he wanted more information.

Dick Peach, president of Keep Evanston Beautiful, Inc., and chair of the recycling and solid-waste task force of Citizens for a Greener Evanston, told the RoundTable, “We should charge for garbage pickups and make recycling free.”

Jeff Smith said he prefers to think of leaves as “sequestered carbon. … It is ironic that in a ‘tree city’ we charge to dispose of leaves. … If we’re going to pass out yard-waste carts, we should also distribute compost bins.”

Next Steps

City staff will seek requests for proposals from refuse haulers and return to the committee with proposed costs for outsourcing refuse pickups.