Janesville residents to see increase in trash pickup costs

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Neil Johnson
Monday, August 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—The Janesville City Council on Monday approved a plan aimed at floating the city's listing sanitation fund, but it will cost residents about $30 more in taxes and fees in 2015.

The council unanimously approved a plan forwarded by Operations Director John Whitcomb to bump municipal trash pickup fees by $23, and increase city taxes by $7.68 for the average resident.

The tax increase is tied to a plan to slide $250,000 in the city's annual $1 million in landfill debt payments to the city's general fund, which Whitcomb says will help the sanitation fund keep out of the red in future years.

The sanitation fund has been drained in recent years, Whitcomb says, in large part because the council voted in 2009 to shift debt payments for landfill cell construction from the general fund to the sanitation fund.

Whitcomb said sanitation operations have functioned in the black since then, but the debt burden, which weighs at more than $5 million and will continue to grow throughout the life of the landfill, has continued to outstrip the sanitation fund.

Whitcomb last month had floated a proposal to shift the bulk of landfill debt payments to the general fund. That would have cost the average taxpayer about $29, based on city property assessments, along with a garbage pickup fee hike of $1.50.    

The council, with council member and small business owner Matt Kealy leading the charge, had asked last month for Whitcomb to retool that plan and create a “hybrid” proposal that would rely more on resident garbage pickup fee increases and less on across-the-board tax increases.

The new plan Whitcomb forwarded Monday blunted the amount of debt the city will move from the sanitation fund to the general fund, which in turn lowered the tax burden in the plan.   

The bottom line for residents: It will cost someone with a $120,000 house $125.88 for garbage pickup. That's compared to the average of about $95 this year for garbage pickup.

Whitcomb said the plan would allow the city to pay down all landfill debt by the time the landfill closes, as long as the landfill continues to collect an increase in tons of trash. He said if the city starts to see a surplus, which could come back to residents in the form of a break on fees in the future.

In recent years, the amount of trash collected at the landfill has plummeted, in part because of a more aggressive refuse market but also because the council opted in 2009 to limit the amount of garbage the landfill would accept. 

Also, the city lost its last major contract hauler this year to a private company. That cut out 40,000 tons of trash the landfill would have taken in this year—about a $1 million loss, Whitcomb has said.     

Along with the fee increase, council members tied in recommendations that Whitcomb be given latitude to more unilaterally negotiate and seal deals with private haulers.

In the past, those negotiations have been public and needed council approval, which Whitcomb says has slowed the city's response to market trends and allowed private landfills to undercut the city on contracts.

Last updated: 11:20 pm Monday, August 11, 2014

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