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New trash fees may total $150 a year

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.)

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