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Council will debate significant increases to garbage and yard waste collection fees during the Sept. 25 City Council meeting. On Sept.  11, Council received reports and proposed increases from Director of Public Works Dave Stoneback setting the stage for Monday’s upcoming debate.

In 2011, City Council decided to remove refuse collection from the general budget and create a separate “enterprise fund.” Since then, property owners have been paying these charges directly through fees assessed on bimonthly water bills.

The idea at the time was to make refuse collection self-sufficient – to collect enough in fees to cover the cost of services provided. Council established a system to cover the cost of yard-waste collection as well by implementing the “yard-waste sticker” and separate yard-waste container program. Residents can now choose whether or not to pay to participate in the yard-waste collection program, so that those who do not desire such service do not have to pay for it.

Since establishing the separate fund, the City has been trying to catch up. Information presented by City of Evanston CFO Marty Lyons and other City staff members showed the fund has operated at a deficit since the day it was started.

The City transfers about $1 million every year from the General Fund – the City’s main operating budget – to the Solid Waste Fund to subsidize refuse collection costs. The good news: The overall deficit of the Solid Waste Fund has decreased from $1.5 million to just under $1 million and the annual subsidy has gone down, “$190,000 less per year,” said Mr. Lyons.

With contracts for collections of recycling, refuse, and yard-waste each coming due later this year, Council received a report on Sept. 11 that detailed increased costs of services provided. “We can look at ways to have the solid waste fund become self-sufficient,” said Mr. Lyons. The path to self-sufficiency, of course, requires increases fees charged to residents.

Staff proposes to “try to increase rates to meet 2019 prices,” said Mr. Stoneback. “What I’m trying to reduce is the $1 million [general fund] transfer every year.”

Yard-waste collection fees are the most out of whack, and have been since the moment the program began. “We weren’t charging the correct amount,” said Mr. Stoneback. “It’s been a while since we actually raised rates.

Proposed increases would raise the cost of garbage collection more than $3 per month, or $6 every water bill. Yard-waste fees would skyrocket from $1.75 to $5.50 per bag of yard waste collected – the cost of the sticker – and the fee for collection from a yard-waste cart would increase from $25 per year to $60 per year. The yard-waste collection fee would be spread over three water-bills. While initial garbage and recycling carts are free to residents, yard-waste carts must be purchased from the City at a cost of $82.50.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she believed Council should eliminate the Enterprise Fund entirely. “I’m going to argue that we use the General Fund to finance all our residential, yard waste,” and other refuse collection, she said.

Homeowners can deduct local property taxes from federal taxes, but they cannot deduct refuse-collection service fees. Shifting solid-waste collection to a pay-for-service model may be revenue-neutral for the City, but homeowners lost part of their federal-tax deduction.

The decision to establish the Enterprise Fund followed a similar decision made for removing water and sewer charges, said Ald. Rainey. “The reason we did that was our biggest water users were not taxable,” she said.

Before water and sewer charges were separated, residents were essentially paying for water and sewer services to Northwestern, the two hospitals, and local churches. The water and sewer fees paid by tax-exempt entities dwarfs the tax deduction residents once received.

Increasing refuse collection fees and other similar fees “goes so far in making [taxpayers] upset with their government,” said Ald. Rainey. “Let’s use the General Fund.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the City budget could not absorb the increased cost of refuse collection as it currently stands. “There is no additional property tax fund to cover this,” he said. “We’ll have to make additional cuts, because we are not going to raise property taxes.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asked, “Do we have enough time to run the scenarios” showing what impact the increase would have if it were placed on the tax bill?

“Show us the numbers,” said Ald. Rainey. “We need to see the numbers.” Later, she added, “When this comes back I’d like to see a couple of different scenarios,” one showing the increase on water bills, the other on tax bills.

Aldermen showed particular concern over the massive proposed increase to yard-waste collection fees. “The sticker fee is just enormous,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. “For people like me, who don’t have any trees on my property,” the fee is not fair. The increase is “no sensitive to our population.”

“Most of these leaves come off trees the City owns anyway,” said Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, referring to trees in the City-owned parkways throughout Evanston. He asked if the City had looked into yard waste bags with pre-printed stickers on them so residents would not have to buy bags and stickers separately. Not yet was the response.

Ald. Suffredin’s suggestion is one of several that will return when the matter comes back on September 25. Four separate contracts will be up for approval then – residential refuse collection (Groot is recommended), condominium refuse collection (Lakeshore Recycling Systems is recommended), residential yard waste including this time food scraps for composting (Lakeshore), stand-alone food scrap collection (Collective Resource).