CITY HALL — Trash-talking aldermen took up the distasteful task Friday of accepting and instituting a monthly fee for garage collection.
"We are here to propose a fee none of us really like, but we think it's necessary," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), one of six aldermen prepared to accept such a fee, but seeking to cap it at $11 a month or less — especially for senior citizens.
"Our seniors should not have to pay the full price," said Ald. Michelle Harris (8th). "That's really, really important to me." Harris sought to have "all seniors" pay "at least half price" of whatever final fee is arrived at, perhaps even less for low-income seniors.
The aldermen said the city pays about $250 million for trash pickup annually for the single-family homes and up to four-flat apartment buildings not charged already for collection. (Larger buildings are already charged separately.) They estimated the monthly cost at $33 a household, previously paid entirely through property taxes, and said the new fee for a fraction of that was necessary to address the city's monumental budget deficit brought on by $600 million in pension payments required by the end of the year. They estimated an $11 fee would produce about $80 million.
"We're in a financial crisis," said Ald. Danny Solis (25th). "We're not fooling anybody."
Harris said the concept had "been thrown around for a very, very long time," and Solis added that at this point it shouldn't come as "a big shock."
Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) said he was out to make sure $11 was "a top end," adding, "This is about as high as it could possibly go, and we're doing all we can to reduce it."
"We're still working it out," Harris said.
"Let's be honest," Sawyer added. "This is a tough decision to make. A lot of our colleagues aren't there yet."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel submits his 2016 budget proposal to the City Council on Tuesday. O'Connor is his council floor leader, but if he knows what the mayor intends to propose as a financial formula on trash pickup he wasn't sharing it Friday.
"We're taking this a step at a time," O'Connor said.
The aldermen submitted figures showing that most suburbs already pay more for trash pickup, including Berwyn at $24.79 a month, Oak Park at $23.88, Harvey at $21.41 and Evanston at $17.95, but O'Connor granted that argument would go only so far in the neighborhoods.
"My constituents don't care what they pay in the suburbs," O'Connor said. "They care about what they pay."
None of the six aldermen — representing a cross-section including minorities, close mayoral allies like O'Connor and Harris and outsiders like Sawyer, a member of the Progressive Reform Caucus — seemed particularly excited to be serving as a point person on the issue.
"There's gonna be a lot of trash talking at this press conference," said first-term Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) at the outset, but then he slipped into the background and added nothing more.
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