Increases in solid waste fees for residential and commercial customers win City Commission approval on 4-1 vote on first reading

Commissioner Brody casts lone ‘No’ vote

The City Commission sits in session on May 21. File photo

With a 4-1 vote, the Sarasota City Commission this week approved the first reading of an ordinance that would increase both residential and commercial rates for solid waste collections, effective Oct. 1.

Commissioner Hagen Brody cast the “No” vote during the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 20.

The proposed monthly fee for residential users for trash and recycling collection is $24.55, an increase of $1.89. Additionally, the draft ordinance calls for an uptick of $1.89 per cubic yard for improperly prepared residential yard waste, for a total of $26.64 per cubic yard; the current rate is $24.75 per cubic yard.

For commercial users, the proposed monthly rate increase would rise 5% for all types of containers.

A second reading of an ordinance typically is on the next commission agenda. The next City Commission meeting will be held on Sept. 4, because of the Labor Day holiday.

The last rate increase was imposed in 2016, staff reported on Aug. 20.

During the commission’s June budget workshops, Brody pointed out on Aug. 20 to Doug Jeffcoat, director of the city’s Public Works Department, “We talked about the city basically in-housing [its] recycling [work], and we were told that it was going to be cheaper than outsourcing it.” Why, then, Brody asked, does the city need to raise its rates?

Jeffcoat explained that the anticipated cost to the Solid Waste Division was $1.2 million to contract with a firm for recycling services. The budget for bringing that work in-house, he continued, is anticipated to save about $200,000 a year, “maybe more.”

Even with the savings, Brody asked, Solid Waste still needs the proposed rate increases?

The rate increases would have been higher without the change in the recycling program, Jeffcoat replied.

“And what happens if we don’t support this?” Brody responded.

The Solid Waste Division would have to re-examine its levels of service, Jeffcoat indicated.

Then Todd Kucharski, general manager of the Public Works Department, pointed out that staff originally was looking at the potential of a 15% increase in rates, if it were to continue with a contractual recycling program. What staff has proposed — and the commission was considering that night — was an 8.34% increase in rates, Kucharski added.

A chart shows the proposed change for residential customers. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Brody asked whether more rate increases will be sought in the months and years to come.

“At this time, it’s hard to say,” Jeffcoat told Brody. “It’s related to the recycling markets as they are right now. There is a lot of volatility in the recycling markets, and what we’re looking at is negotiating with processors and trying to limit the risk to the city.”

Jeffcoat added, “I can’t sit here tonight and tell you that a rate increase would not be coming. I will tell you that we have done everything we can in the proposed budget to position ourselves [to try to minimize future rate increases].”

Then Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked when the current contract for city recycling services ends.

The city is operating under a six-month extension, Jeffcoat said, and that expires March 31, 2019.

However, he told her, staff is seeking only one rate hike for the next fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1, and that increase would go into effect on Oct. 1.

“So you’re not going to come back to us between now and March and ask for more money?” Freeland Eddie asked.

“No, ma’am,” Jeffcoat replied.

Doug Jeffcoat addresses the City Commission in 2016. File photo

During the outset of the Aug. 20 public hearing, Jeffcoat explained that several factors “are putting pressures on the operating fund reserve balance” in the Solid Waste Division. Among them, he noted, are higher costs for recycling as well as for yard waste disposal. The latter situation is a result of materials often being placed in plastic bags.

A reduction in gas tax revenue the city collects, he continued, also had led to less money for the street sweeping program. Altogether, an array of factors has led to the reserves falling below the target of maintaining sufficient operating revenue for three months, a staff memo in the board’s agenda packet explained.

When Freeland Eddie asked how staff determined the rate increases were necessary, Jeffcoat told her that a rate analysis was undertaken. Staff reviewed all costs associated with the operations of the division, he said, and compared the results to the anticipated revenue stream from residential and commercial customers.

A concern about tenants, compared to property owners

During the discussion, Freeland Eddie also pointed out that city staff has been pushing commercial customers in the city limits to recycle more, but those customers have been worried about the expense. “How do you entice business owners to do more when it’s going to cost them more?”

Because the city does not collect commercial recycling materials, Jeffcoat explained, a business owner has the ability to pursue bids from multiple vendors. “It’s actually an incentive for them to get [the recycling material] out of the garbage stream by recycling, because there’s a potential revenue stream for them or at least a reduced cost [from having less garbage].”

The more recyclables a business owner has, Jeffcoat added, the less garbage goes to the landfill. That can lead to fewer collections, as well, he noted, lowering business owners’ expenses.

A chart shows proposed changes in commercial fees. Images courtesy City of Sarasota

That does not help smaller business owners who lease their property, Freeland Eddie replied. They may elect not to participate in recycling, she said, “because it’s not cost-effective to them.”
“And that we cannot control,” Jeffcoat responded. However, he continued, “I will say that, in most cases … the tenant [is] made responsible” for the solid waste collection, based on information he has seen in the Solid Waste billing office.

“But you’re exactly right,” he told Freeland Eddie: No recycling incentive exists for business owners who are tenants, “other than trying to do something better for the Earth …”