Street Department Superintendent Dustin Dillon holds up a pack of paper bags for yard waste at the Warsaw Common Council meeting. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Street Department Superintendent Dustin Dillon holds up a pack of paper bags for yard waste at the Warsaw Common Council meeting. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
With no remonstrators voicing opposition to it, the Warsaw Common Council unanimously passed a trash fee ordinance Monday night on first reading after an advertised public hearing.

The second and final reading will be at the 7 p.m. May 17 Council meeting at City Hall.

The ordinance was introduced at the Council meeting two weeks ago. It establishes a collection charge of $8 per month per residential unit from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. The fee then increases $1 annually until it reaches $12 per month per residential unit July 25, 2025, and beyond.

The fee applies to private residences and residential buildings containing not more than four individual dwelling units within the city. It will be billed on the utility bills of city utility customers that receive city trash collection; or billed to owners of residential property not connected to city utilities but that receive city trash collection. The monthly fee will be applied each month and there will allowed no temporary vacation of the charged fee, according to the ordinance.

Residential buildings containing two to four individual dwelling units in the city may request to opt out of the city’s trash service for one year at a time by completing and submitting an opt-out form provided by the Warsaw Street Department’s office.

Another part of the ordinance states that beginning July 1, 2021, “vegetative matter resulting from landscaping maintenance may be set out for garbage collection. Grass clippings, leaves and other vegetative matter must be containerized in biodegradable paper lawn bags or refuse storage containers. In the fall, leaves will be collected by the city street department loose or in biodegradable paper lawn bags during the fall collection season.”

Mayor Joe Thallemer started the discussion on the trash fee ordinance by reviewing how the property tax circuit breakers have affected the city’s finances.

“Creation of the user fee for curbside waste pick-up has been a recommendation from our financial consultants for several years. It’s primarily the result of continued historical increases of circuit breaker credits which results in losses, lost revenue and subsequent downward trend in our reserves. That’s something that’s been going on really since this whole thing started,” Thallemer said.

In 2011, he said circuit breaker losses for the city were about $308,000, or about 3%. He said the projections have that almost tripling to 2022 to possibly $948,000. “So, obviously, that’s a concern we’ve got. Many communities have much larger circuit breaker losses. I think ours are just finally catching up. Many larger communities have mostly anywhere from 25 to 50% circuit breaker losses,” he said.

Warsaw has been relatively fortunate, he said, but over time it just continues to increase.

“But property tax revenues are just not keeping up with the demand for service, and the answer is clearly the circuit breaker tax losses,” Thallemer said.

Circuit breakers began with full impact in 2010, he said. In 2007, before circuit breakers, 80% of the city’s budget was funded by property tax. In 2021, that’s dropped down to 56%.

Street Superintendent Dustin Dillon then gave a 14-minute presentation on refuse collection in Warsaw.

He said some of the issues with refuse collection are the rising costs, cans left out on the street, large item pickups, keeping alleys clean and maintained, trash route mapping, efficiency of service and the flexibility of doing things in-house. Some of the proactive measures the Street Department has taken to combat those issues include having the street sweeping crew run a day behind the trash route; awareness tags; using a bigger truck for large item pickups; keeping alleys clean; rerouting traffic maps; and using the one-armed truck.

The Street Department has been pushing the paper bags for a while now, Dillon said. The ordinance mentions the paper bags, and he said his department has already bought a number of them. For composting, there can’t be any plastic bags at all, and getting rid of them and moving to composting will cut down on the department’s grinding costs. Dillon said the department spends about $40,000 a year on grinding leaves, brush, etc. The money saved on the grinding costs will be used to purchase the paper bags for residences – five per residence per month.

Dillon presented a slide with the 2020 disposal fees. Trash pick-up expenses includes $20,000 a year for fuel; $60,000 for tires, repairs, maintenance; $65,714.29 for two main garbage trucks; $31,404.34 for trash carts; $152,820 for landfill fees; $238,983.90 for employee wages with benefits. Yard waste expenses include $7,500 for fuel; $8,000 for tires, repairs, maintenance; $10,000 for two main follow trucks; $39,836 for grinding fees; $14,663.20 for grapple truck; and $131,386.09 for employee wages with benefits. The total of the household trash, yard waste and $135,168 for recycling is $915,475.82.

Back in 2008, he said, they were about $735,000 in cost for refuse. He said now the city is at over $915,000 per year. In 2008, there were 3,906 trash stops but close to 4,600 now.

After Thallemer went through the ordinance with the Council, the three members of the Council’s trash fee committee – Jerry Frush, Josh Finch and Mike Klondaris - spoke.

“I know we sat and talked this over for a long time, and we tried to do our citizens of Warsaw the best that we could do. We felt that if we tried to hire somebody from out of town to come in, such as Fort Wayne had done – if you see the newspapers you can see what happened over there. They just don’t get the good, 100% efficient service that we get. I think we get the greatest service of any local areas around,” Frush said.

Klondaris said they “thought of almost every option that we could.” With property taxes staying low, he said the $8 a month was a “win-win” and not an excessive fee to “have a white-glove trash service, yard waste pickup, leaf pickup in the fall and recycling.”

Finch echoed Frush’s and Klondaris’ comments and said it came down to what was best for the city.

Councilwoman Diane Quance asked, “With our goal of $12 by July 2025, what amount of revenue are we estimating that will raise by then?” She said she knew the city wouldn’t know exactly but asked for an estimate or goal.

Thallemer said they figured out it was a little over $16 per dwelling unit per month to provide the service, so beginning at $8 for the first year was only charging about half that. In 2025, the $12 a month still wasn’t reaching the full cost for the city, and “who knows what the costs will do” between now and then, he said.

When Thallemer opened up the meeting for public comments, no one spoke up at the meeting or texted in for or against the ordinance. Resident Jamal Smith asked why they were being held to five bags a month, but Dillon said they could have more than five bags of yard waste, but the city was only providing five paper bags a month.

After Klondaris made a motion to accept the ordinance on first reading and Frush seconded it, Council President Jack Wilhite thanked the committee and said the city needs to maintain its services. “I’m a person who believes smaller government is better government. The closer you get your government to the people, the better government you’re going to have,” he said.

The Council then voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance on first reading.