Chicago business and condo owners who dumped all over the city’s plan to license their garbage dumpsters are now facing a 10 percent increase in those fees.
The stage was set Tuesday when the City Council’s Finance Committee approved an ordinance requiring dumpsters to be equipped with bar codes, wireless transmitting devices or some other “form of technology” that allows city crews to identify them and make certain the annual fee and fines tied to sanitation violations are promptly paid.
Dumpster fees currently range from $17 three times-a-year for the smallest containers under one cubic yard to $164 every four months for over-sized dumpsters with over 10 cubic yards.
The ordinance championed by Finance Chairman Edward Burke (14th) would empower City Hall to “impose an additional technology surcharge of up to ten percent” of the dumpster fee “as may be necessary to administer data collection using the verification technology.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was livid for the same reasons she opposed the dumpster fee when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley imposed it five years ago.
Financially-strapped condominium associations already struggling to meet an array of costly city mandates can’t afford the added cost.
“We’ve got the dumpster fee. We’ve got the façade [repairs]. We’ve got the critical exam. We’ve got the life-safety evaluation. We just raised the fees on the dumpsters last year or two years ago. You keep going after the same group of people,” Hairston said.
“It disproportionately impacts those of us who have high-rises. Every time the city wants to increase a fee, they go to the people in the high-rises. We’re looking for some parity.”
Hairston doesn’t buy the explanation that the new technology will help the city crack down on unlicensed and over-flowing dumpsters.
“If a dumpster is over-flowing, the city is gonna have to pick it up anyway — especially during the summer. You’ve got food and everything out there. Just knowing who to go after may be faster. But it doesn’t remedy the situation of getting the dumpster dumped,” she said.
Hairston said she’s also concerned that a similar “technology fee” could be imposed against the owners of single-family homes, two-, three- and four-flats who get city garbage pick-up.
That’s because the Department of Streets and Sanitation is currently conducting an “inventory” of 55-gallon carts as a prelude to equipping those cards with the same bar code or wireless transmitter technology that can be read by the Blackberries or smart phones assigned to city crews.
Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams said the technology upgrade will help the city collect all of the fees it’s entitled to collect and make it easier to issue tickets for over-flowing dumpsters that breed rats.
“Before we hammer them with a ticket, it would be nice if we just call them and say, `You have a cart that needs attention. We need you to come out immediately,’ ” Williams said, noting that the label sometimes wears off.
Williams said he has no idea how many businesses are thumbing their noses at the dumpster fee because it’s so cumbersome to check.
“This would just automate the entire process. One swipe and we know it’s paid,” he said.
“We’re currently inventorying all of our carts in the city. We’re looking to mirror the two [technologies] together…. For instance, you have a cart at your house and someone takes it. It ends up later on at one of those recycling metal places. We would be able to scan that inventory number and immediately say, `This belongs two blocks over.’ So, we take it back and drop it off.”
Not every alderman was opposed to the new technology. Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) proposed that the city go even further.
“While we’re doing this with the dumpsters, let’s also put the GPS on the private waste hauler trucks so we know where they are when,” Reilly said.
“Our ward supes — mine downtown and a few of my colleagues on the lakefront — spend quite a bit of time chasing around waste haulers who are operating outside of the allowed hours. That might also produce incredible revenue opportunity.”
Five years ago, Daley suggested raising $9 million during part of 2009 — and at least $25 million in subsequent years — by requiring businesses and condo associations to buy annual permits for their over-sized garbage containers.
The fee would have ranged from $100-a-year for the smallest containers to $300 for the largest.
Business and condo owners dumped on the plan. So did their local aldermen. Daley subsequently agreed to reduce the fees by 37 percent, in part, because there were twice as many dumpsters in Chicago as the city anticipated — as many as 75,000.