The union that represents the City of Bloomington’s solid waste employees is lobbying aldermen not to outsource garbage collection to private companies.
The Bloomington City Council is expected to discuss solid waste again Feb. 12. As aldermen look to close a $3 million budget deficit next year, some have expressed interest in cutting costs by turning over some or all waste removal to private companies.
It’s not the first time the city has considered this. This time, members and supporters of AFSCME Local 699 are being encouraged to contact aldermen to voice their opposition to outsourcing, said Renee Nestler with AFSCME. The union is circulating a flier.
“Our members continuously feel like they’re on the chopping block as far as outsourcing goes,” Nestler said.
The city’s Solid Waste division in Public Works has 35 employees. They collect garbage, recycling, brush, and bulk waste, in addition to pitching in with snow removal.
It’s unclear what would happen to those employees—and the city’s existing trucks and garbage carts—if the city outsourced some or all of its solid waste services. Aldermen would have to decide what services they want to outsource, then the city would put out a request for bids.
“We would have to find out a lot of that as we move forward. Different companies deal with contracting in various ways,” said Jim Karch, the city’s Public Works director. “Some of the larger solid waste companies actually will even acquire some of your employees during that contract process, or they’ll acquire some of your equipment, or your carts. So that would all be included as part of the (Request for Proposals) process. And then we’d also have to be through discussions with our Local 699 AFSCME group of employees.”
Added Nestler: “The city could be obligated to bargain with us over the decision and potentially any impact over what direction we’re going.”
At the Feb. 12 council meeting, city staff will present different potential levels of outsourcing, Karch said. Local governments handle garbage in many ways, he said, ranging from doing everything in-house (even recycling processing) to outsourcing all services.
“Our current service level is very high,” Karch said. “Are we wanting to provide that same service level? Or do you want us to get pricing on a different service level?”
Nestler noted the various services employees provide, such as brush and bulk pickup.
“All of those things combined are not something you’re going to get for the same cost with a private company. They’re either going to charge more to get all that, or they’re going to adjust the cost and not provide you something—and it’s usually bulk that ends up being one of the more costly things,” Nestler said.
If the city lost its Solid Waste employees, it would also need to find additional help with snow removal. Various Public Works employees currently tag-team that effort.
“If there were a change in services and garbage were outsourced, now you’re going to have a dramatic impact on snow removal, especially in a significant snow event that lasts over multiple shifts, because you won’t have the manpower to cover it,” Nestler said.
The issue is that the city spends more on solid waste than its brings in from customer fees. The city’s Solid Waste fund is budgeted to spend $6.9 million this fiscal year, with only $6.5 million in revenues. (The city is using fund reserves to make up the difference.)
“We provide an excellent customer service to our citizens. We get a lot of positive feedback from our citizens. They do a great job,” Karch said. “The problem our council is trying to balance is the cost. The costs right now exceed the revenues that are brought in.”
It’s unclear how far aldermen may go toward outsourcing. After a Jan. 22 council meeting, Mayor Tari Renner said he sensed that aldermen were leaning toward outsourcing garbage collection entirely—something he says he opposes. Renner said he thinks the best solution would be to raise waste-collection fees until the service pays for itself.
There are other cost-cutting options on the table, such as scaling back the frequency of bulk-waste collection.
No final decision is expected to be made Feb. 12. The next budget year begins May 1.
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