The ordinance establishing a trash fee in the Warsaw city limits was introduced at the Common Council meeting.
The fee, if approved, would be $8 a month from July 1 to Dec. 31 this year, and then increase annually by $1 until it reaches $12 per month in 2025. The ordinance also creates additional rules regarding the disposal of vegetation (leaves, sticks, grass, etc.), including that the vegetation must be put in paper bags, not plastic.
The Council will discuss the ordinance at their May 3 and 17 meetings, including a public hearing. Street Superintendent Dustin Dillon will give a formal presentation on the ordinance at the May 3 meeting.
No action was taken on the ordinance by the Council this week.
In introducing the ordinance, Mayor Joe Thallemer said, “This proposal … is pretty basic. It’s basically a rate ordinance that establishes the rate per dwelling unit, starting July 1 of $8 per dwelling unit through the end of the year and then that will increase $1 for the next four years up to $12 from 2025 and beyond.”
He said it will be on the utility bills and will be billed to owners of residential property that are four units or less.
“A second item that was of note, that should be considered and open to discussion, would be the utilization of paper lawn bags or refuge storage containers for grass clippings, leaves and other vegetation matter,” Thallemer said.
He reminded the Council that when they heard the year-end report from the street department, “they spent much, much, much unnecessary time cutting open over 15,000 plastic bags. And those are all bags that have material that would go into mulch pile, and the city has to apply for a permit to be able to compost and mulch. And part of that requirement is that all refuse is deposited in paper bags and not plastic.”
Another rule in the ordinance states that, “In order that federal, state and local environmental and public health and safety standards can be enforced … it is hereby noticed and declared to be the policy and intention of the city to, from time to time, open and examine the contents of containers placed for collection … and to take appropriate enforcement action in the event of violations … .”
Thallemer told the Council that earlier this year, a committee of three Council members – Jerry Frush, Mike Klondaris and Josh Finch – was convened to look at the costs of providing curbside waste collection for residents of four units or less, “which includes weekly trash service, yard waste removal and biweekly recycling services.” The annual cost to provide those services is about $915,000.
“Quite simply, the cost to provide services for our growing community is challenged by the negative impacts of property tax caps,” Thallemer said. Referring to a report done by Baker Tilly for the city, the financial comprehensive plan shows the city’s circuit breaker losses, which are projected to increase. “2020, we actually lost 3.7% of our revenue to the circuit breaker losses. 2021 is projected to be 4.7%, and 2022 is 6.5%.”
Thallemer also pointed out that the city is at its maximum tax levy, and there’s a reduction in cash reserves for seven operating funds while costs continue to increase. Those funds include general, fire, motor vehicle highway (MVH), MVH restricted, local roads and streets, park, cemetery and aviation.
“Those cash reserves have dropped $1.5 million in the last two years, and had we not had that about $850,000 pension relief last year, we would have been well over $2 million in reductions in our reserves,” he said.
Thallemer said he had an old survey of about 95 communities in Indiana that shows close to 80% of them have trash fees averaging $14 per month per residential unit. He said the $8 per month fee in the ordinance presented to the Council would take care of about half the cost for the city to provide the quality services its citizens have gotten used to.
Frush said he’s not one that wants to raise fees for everybody, but “this, I see, has to be done at this time. We could have raised it up to $12, but we feel like raising it a small amount each year will be a lot easier on the taxpayers.” He said the “small” increase each year will be more “realistic.” “It’s necessary we do this because we can’t keep pulling money out of the pot because that pot is going to get empty before too long,” Frush said.
Klondaris said all they were trying to do with the fee is subsidize trash collection, not pay for the whole thing. He said his sister lives in the county and she has to pay $26 per month for trash. “By living in the city, paying $8, I would say that’s probably a bargain. It’s one of the benefits of living in the city – having your trash picked up,” he said.
Finch agreed with Frush and Klondaris’ comments, adding, “I think if you talk with most street department superintendents, one of the most expensive assets for them to maintain are the trash vehicles, whether it’s the grapple truck or the more traditional one.”
He said there’s about 4,600 stops for trash collection and “I think it’s a tremendous service.”
Thallemer said with the new grapple trucks, “not only did they pick up large amounts and sizes of yard waste, they picked up 81 grapple truckloads of brush in 2020, but they also picked up 1,341 large items.” For “normal” garbage, he said they collected 3,427 tons of refuse. He did note they contract out the recyclable portion, but the city does the rest of the work.
Frush said the city will furnish up to five paper bags per month for residents to put their yard trash in. Thallemer said the city purchased a lot of those paper bags to implement the program.
Councilwoman Diane Quance said, “This week, for Earth Day, the city is offering five bags for anybody that wants to drive out to the street department and pick them up. You just need to show proof of residence so you can get started using those right now.”
Thallemer said they’re 30-gallon bags, and Frush said they need to be tied with twine or bailing twine, not plastic. Frush said a refuse container or bag can not weigh more than 40 pounds.
Thallemer said Dillon also is looking at ways to improve efficiencies with the trash routes to cut back on costs.
In other business, the Council:
• Approved, on second reading, a salary ordinance amendment for seasonal park employees. The amendment was approved April 5 on first reading. The amendment states the maximum hourly wage for the campground manager is $18; recreation leader, $15; lifeguard, $14; and head lifeguard, $15.
• Approved the continuation of four tax abatements as recommended by Warsaw Community Development Coordinator Jeremy Skinner.
The first two are for West Hill Development LLC for a building leased by Patrick Industries at 1445 Polk Drive. They spent over $9 million altogether on improvements to the building and hired 147 employees. The first abatement is in its sixth year, and the second is in its second year.
The third abatement, also for a shell building by West Hill, is for 1195 Polk Drive and is occupied by Nextremity Solutions.
The final abatement was approved in 2020 for BTC Investments at 133 Enterprise Drive. In its first year of abatement, Skinner said the project value was $525,000.