Trash: Who should pay what and how

Evanston residents will get a chance to air their views on the sticky subject of trash hauling fees at a meeting next Wednesday at the Civic Center.

The city's solid waste fund is running a deficit of about $1 million a year, and city staff have proposed eliminating that by raising user fees.

The city's chief financial officer, Marty Lyons, suggests the trash operation should be run on a business-like basis -- raising enough revenue from fees charged to cover its costs.

That's how the city operates its water and parking systems now, Lyons says.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, has suggested trash hauling is different.

She argues that while charging separately for water means otherwise tax-exempt entities like Northwestern University have to pay their share of the costs, paying for trash hauling through the property tax would make those payments tax deductible to homeowners.

But only 55 percent of Evanston households are homeowners. Renters wouldn't see any benefit.

And only those homeowners who have enough other deductions to be able to itemize on their federal tax return would be able to make use of the deduction. So many homeowners -- including the 30 percent who don't have mortgage interest to deduct -- would be unlikely to see any benefit.

And low income homeowners would get little or no benefit because they have too little income to benefit from the deduction -- while the richest homeowners would see the biggest benefit.

Environmentalists might note that decoupling part of the cost of trash service from the amount of trash people throw out tends to encourage wasteful habits and excess use.

And then there's the question of whether it's fair to hit businesses, which now pay their own trash hauling fees, with a property tax hike to subsidize residential trash hauling.

Nonetheless, hitting customers with big rate trash hauling rate hikes isn't very palatable to aldermen either.

In their first discussion of the rate hike proposal Monday night, aldermen seemed reluctant to go all the way to making the solid waste fund self-supporting, but it was unclear how much of an increase they might be willing to stomache.

On the other hand, as City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz reminded them, if they don't want to increase trash fees and don't want to increase the property tax levy, they'll have to make budget cuts elsewhere.

The public meeting, hosted by the city's Public Works Agency, will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the City Council Chambers at the Civic Center.

Related stories

Big fee hikes proposed for trash removal (9/11/17)

Recap: Administration and Public Works Committee (9/11/17)

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