RENSSELAER — A consulting firm recommended the elimination of Rensselaer’s trash sticker program and creation of a flat fee for trash pick-up during Monday’s Rensselaer City Council meeting.
John Julien, of Baker Tilly, was in attendance to provide a financial report on the impact of the sticker program, which requires city residents to buy stickers from the utility office and a handful of businesses in town at the current cost of $3 each. Residents must then attach those stickers to their trash cans for the city’s pick-up service.
Julien said the program generates approximately $500,000 per year, while the operating costs for the sanitation department’s pick-up service runs $700,000 per year. The difference in the two amounts is absorbed by the general fund.
Baker Tilly recommends the city charge a flat trash pick-up fee of approximately $17.85 per month per residence to keep the revenue amount and operating costs in line with one another.
The fee will also help the city purchase a new trash truck in the future as well as pay for the cost to modify current trucks with new lifts. The firm feels the city should supply residents with new garbage totes that would be affixed to the lifts on the back of the trucks for trash disposal.
If the city decides to move away from trash stickers, the standardized totes would be distributed free to residents when city trucks are outfitted with new lifts.
Councilman Ernest Watson asked Julien what can be done for older residents who may not generate as much trash as a family of four. Julien said once totes are distributed to families, the city can adjust its rates for older residents who will be given smaller totes for their trash.
Baker Tilly also suggested the city move its sanitation department fund out of the general fund. This stand-alone fund — which has become a trend with Indiana municipalities, Julien said — would give the city a more detailed look at revenue and expenditures generated by the department.
The council approved a motion to do just that ahead of 2021 budget talks, setting the stage for discussion of moving trash service to a monthly fee by Jan. 1, 2021. The council must first create an ordinance and hold a public meeting before proceeding with the new rate.
“At the first meeting in August, an ordinance will be introduced, and by the second meeting in August, you can have a public hearing on rates,” Julien told the council.
Julien was also on hand to provide his firm’s analysis of the city’s sewage rates. Because operating costs continue to trend upwards while revenue has slipped over the past couple of years, Baker Tilly suggests the city raise rates by 20 percent to account for the difference.
“The rate would be adjusted 10 percent to reflect the cost for current operations and 10 percent for upcoming projects,” Julien said.
One project involves the relocation and rebuilding of a lift station, which will be moved out of the flood plain at Weston Cemetery to a location closer to the wet weather treatment plant behind Saint Joseph’s College. It is one aspect of a mandatory $5.2 million plan developed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
It’s been over five years since the city has seen a rate increase. The loss of Saint Joseph’s College as an active utility customer and other factors have led to a slip in revenue generated by the sewer plant, Julien said. The money is used to maintain and upgrade the plant.
Currently, residents pay an average of $43 for sewage and the new rate, if approved, would push that rate to around $52.