Evanston residents may see new fees totalling $150 a year added to their water bills to have refuse and yard waste removed from their homes.

That would be the impact if the City Council follows staff recommendations and stops subsidizing trash programs from the city’s general fund.

Evanston residents may see new fees totalling $150 a year added to their water bills to have refuse and yard waste removed from their homes.

That would be the impact if the City Council follows staff recommendations and stops subsidizing trash programs from the city’s general fund.

The staff plan, to be considered by the Administration and Public Works Committee Monday, calls for phasing in the new fees over three years.

And the new cost structure assumes the aldermen also go along with staff plans to revamp the sanitation service to cut program costs by about $500,000 a year.

The staff recommendation would gradually raise the $6.95 a month fee already on the water bill for refuse pickup to $16.50, and it would impose a new charge for yard waste that would gradually rise from $1 to $3 per month.

Combined with the existing fee, the increase would raise the typical homeowner’s trash costs to $234 a year.

The refuse hauling charge would apply to single family homes and small apartment buildings now served by city refuse crews and to condo and co-op buildings served by a city contractor. The condos and co-op buildings would be exempt from the yard waste charge under the staff plan.

The plan contains little in the way of incentives to reduce waste production, other than increasing the monthly cost for having a second refuse cart from $2.50 to $5.

Some aldermen have noted that yard waste could be dramatically reduced if more people mulched their lawn clippings and composted other yard waste. But the council has resisted schemes that would charge by-the-bag for yard waste because of the annoyance factor to residents of having to buy special bags or stickers and the possible administrative costs of implementing such a program.

Sanitation Superintendent Suzette Eggleston says the city’s new recycling carts have radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags that potentially make it possible to track how much residents recycle. But she notes that so far the technology has its limits. The equipment can tell when a cart has been lifted onto a truck, but can’t yet reliably tell how much the contents of the cart weigh.

If the city required the use of carts for yard waste, the same technology could track yard waste usage. But that would add the need to buy and maintain more carts, and require residents to find a place to store them.

City staff say the new rates would be roughly comparable to those already charged in most nearby communities.

With the city facing a projected $8 million shortfall in its $90 million general fund budget for next year, and with strong resistance evident in recent budget workshops to raising property taxes, switching the trash program to be fully fee-based is expected to have considerable appeal to the aldermen.

The shift would also make the program follow the pattern already used for water and sewer service and the city’s parking garage system — which are expected to recover their costs through user fees.

Opponents of such a change have noted that, for many residents, charges included on the property tax bill can be partially recovered as an itemized deduction on federal taxes, while separate fees for such services are not deductible to the homeowner.

(Update at 3:05 p.m. 12/6/09: A new staff plan for sanitation fees would switch to volume-based pricing. See: Revised trash plan: Pay by volume.)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Yard waste stickers
    As a community and home gardener, I very actively compost my yard waste and even collect bags from my neighbors to add to my compost pile.

    The only time I leave yard waste bags out to be collected is when I have known diseased or invested plant waste.

    I would greatly resent paying a yard waste collection fee that was not based on the amount collected from my household.

    Having to purchase stickers would be a real inconvenience, but what better way to encourage composting or mulching?

  2. Parkway leaves
    John, I commend your diligent composting, but your situation does not apply to everyone. It is not possible for our family to compost the amount of leaves we are responsible for cleaning up every fall. On our very small property we have three large trees, and are next door to many more. We have one large tree in the parkway and leaves from all the surrounding trees land in our yard. We barely have room three weeks a year for all the leaf bags we stuff full, much less any kind of box or bin to put them in.

    And yet, to be good citizens of Evanston, and to keep those leaves out of our drains, I must spend many, many hours a year raking them up, purchasing the bags, filling the bags, the dragging them to the curb. I believe I’ve done my share in the community clean-up biz without having to buy stickers for the 25 to 30 yard waste bags my household fills every year.

    1. Leaf Bag Stickers – A Concern For Everyone
      Candace, being in a similar situation (40 bags of leaves each fall), I completely agree with you. In addition to the two old-growth trees in my backyard, the city has 2 trees on my easement. I fail to understand how it is legal for the city to plant two trees in front of my home and then charge me a fee to clean up after them. This is a regressive tax and it is designed to hit the middle class who, due to the financial aspects of it, generally do their own yard work. They are charging the very people who are already having difficulty in making ends meet as wages remain stagnant and the cost of everything else increases. This is something that needs more attention… more of a voice. Everyone on this site seems very concerned with the closing of branch libraries, but that action impacts a much smaller number of people than the leaf sticker issue.

      Also, a little history…. the city had tried to implement a leaf bag program many years ago. They wanted people to buy leaf bags from the city, but this program did not last very long because they were taken to court and the court did not find in the city’s favor. Of course, the city employees that know of that history are probably all gone, hence the new employees offering it up as something that is viable. I did not live in Evanston at the time, but got the background from a long-time city resident. I would definitely like to hear more from anyone else that might remember this debacle.

  3. Garbage stickers I vote Yes Pay as you go
    I lived in a community that used trash stickers. It was easy to understand and easy to do.
    We put our garbage in garbage bags and put the sticker on the bag. Only bags with stickers were collected. There was a weekly limit of bags they would pick up too. I can’t remember how many they would pick up per week but at least 4-5.

    The stickers were available at the grocery store, 7-11, the gas station, City Hall etc. I believe they cost $1.50 per bag.

    Recycling was picked up for free, as much paper and plastic and glass and metal that one could divert from the garbage.

    Speaking from personal experience


    1. Also personal experience
      I too grew up on the outskirts of a community that implemented this practice, but they did it with their garbage. The result was that the folks that did not want to (or could not afford to) pay the additional fee ended up dumping their garbage beside the road and in other people’s garbage cans. Over a period of years, the outskirts of the town, where I lived, looked terrible and there were constant write-ups in the local paper over garbage dumping.

      As it currently stands, Evanston has residents that continue to blow and pile their leaves into the street for the street cleaner, even though this is supposed to be a fineable offense. Are these scofflaws going to continue to get away with this while the rest of us do our civic duty and pay? People’s finances are already stretched too tight. This is not going to bode well for our future.

  4. Yard waste choices

    You’re right- not every resident’s situation is the same.

    Dealing with yard waste takes time and effort, of which any proportion can be monetized. Some people hire gardeners, some people compost and mulch, some people fill bags and leave the disposal to the City. Some people have no yard waste at all because they don’t have a yard. The City can provide a “free” service, collecting the yard waste and distributing its cost among all taxpayers or it can charge per bag collected or it can not provide any service.

    I appreciate your civic contribution to your neighborhood. I’ll propose another option. If a resident doesn’t want to pay for a sticker, they should be able to take their yard waste to a collection point. The paid yard bags can be disposed of as they currently are, but perhaps the City could have multiple collection/compost spots arranged around the City. I suspect most people will use stickers, but enough will drop off to create a source of supply for compost. Perhaps several larger parks could each have a compost area. The compost “smell” that some have complained about at James Park would be dispersed and the City and residents would have a local source of compost. Perhaps the finished compost could be sold to residents just like firewood currently is.

    Regardless of whatever plan the City adopts, I would suggest to my fellow community gardeners (gee, that includes ETHS next spring) that we reserve a plot at each site for a compost pile and ask the public to help fill it with suitable yard waste. I will gladly fulfill my community work requirement by helping turn it over.

  5. Two dollars for a bag of grass
    I miss the good old days when you put the grass clippings in a plastic bag,and burn the leaves in the back yard.The garbage men had pitch forks on the side of the truck,they use the pitch fork to pick up the litter they might have dropped when they picked up the garbage cans.Bring back the good old days.

  6. Stealth Tax
    The inability of our City Council to control costs and make deep meaningful cuts to balance the budget has embolded the Council to find more creative and invasive ways to raise revenue.

    Doubling the the waste fee is a stealth tax. The City Council can promise not to raise their portion of the property tax because they can raise revenue through other general fees that have the same impact as a tax. This fee effects a majority of the citizens of Evanston.

    The City Counsel should spend their time zeroing in on the glaring waste in the budget and make the hard choices like cutting some of the reckless public art spending, funding some of private social organization and yes close the North and South branch libraries.

    The City Council spends too much time on off shore windmills and low income housing that at best would effect .5% of our population. They are forgetting and burdening the large segment of the people in this city called the middle class by increasing this fee that in reality is a new tax that hits most of the citizens of this city.

    I realize that Evanston is a progressive town, but when will a tipping point come and the citizens say enough.

  7. Revenue Opportunities
    Pay as you go for yard waste bags? Yes, please! We pay to have our waste removed, so why should we pay double, so our neighbors’ waste can be picked up by the city, or dumped in the gutter or alley to interfere with drainage?

    Further, why should we pay for neighbors extra garbage week after week just because they are unmitigated consumers and dump their trash, and construction materials, in the alley instead of in the buckets provided?

    I hope the City will tax users, not everyone.

    Another revenue source: enforce the snow shoveling ordinance! Revenue from that could support a few jobs, and win the hearts of those of us who have to tiptoe across the icy, snowy unshoveled walks or walk in the streets.

  8. Tax & Spend Gov. – Time for Pitch Forks!?
    Seriously, when is enough? When will be the final straw? I’m sick and tired of avalanche of taxes whilst the spending overwhelms every fiscally responsible ounce of common sense.

    Time for pitch forks – and march on the ‘Gov’. Time for this madness to stop. A good old fashion French-style revolution!

    (btw, the largest employer in France – is the bloody Government! So great! We may as well speak French and throw in the towel.)

    Cake anyone?


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