Brown: No 'free' ride on garbage pickup

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A city worker picks up garbage | Sun-Times file photo

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If Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen are serious about making city residents pay a separate fee for garbage collection, then I have small suggestion.

Stop insulting the intelligence of those residents by repeating the assertion they now receive “free” garbage collection.

People who pay their taxes find that very irritating.

Do they receive free police and fire protection?

Free street lights?

Free pothole repair and snow plowing?


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No, they pay for all that through their taxes, just as they pay for garbage collection, graffiti removal and tree trimming among other things — as well as for the pensions of the people who provide those services.

If the taxes they are paying aren’t enough to cover the costs of all those services plus the pensions (hint: they aren’t), then level with the people and say so.

And if somebody thinks it will be easier for the public to accept if the city charges separately for garbage pickup than if it were to raise property taxes as high as would be necessary to get the city (and schools) out of their financial jam, then have that discussion with them.

But don’t tell people they have been getting garbage service for free just because the city has never chosen to itemize the tax bills.

I’m not saying the separate garbage charge is a bad idea. As user fees go, it makes more sense than most.

I’m just saying that city officials aren’t going to make it any less unpopular by flimflamming residents about the nature of what they are doing, which is squeezing them for more money.

I read in City Hall reporter Fran Spielman’s story on Monday that some of the African-American aldermen are now running scared from the garbage fee after getting push back from residents who see refuse collection as something that’s already included in their taxes.

As I said, that’s because it is.

Now, there are some good arguments that can be made in favor of charging separately for garbage collection, starting with the fact that people who live in large residential buildings already are required to pay for private waste haulers.

According to Spielman’s story, City Hall says four in 10 Chicago households don’t get city garbage pickup as it is.

There’s also the argument that when people are paying for garbage collection, it’s easier to get them to reduce their waste, and to recycle more.

As you’ve probably heard, these garbage collection-fees are common in the suburbs and elsewhere around the state and country.

In Oak Park where I live, we’ve been paying a separate garbage fee since 1991.

I can attest that what was once a major source of outrage, mainly because village officials also tried to argue at inception that we had been getting garbage service for free, is now more an irritant.

Oak Park gives residents the option of weekly pickup for a 96 gallon garbage bin for $23.88 per month or a 64 gallon bin for $19.60 a month.

Included in the charge is an additional 64 gallon recycling bin. This encourages residents to recycle as much as possible so that they can get by with the smaller trash bin.

This fee also includes the cost of a separate leaf pickup in the fall. For yard waste bags and large items that won’t fit in the bin, residents have to buy stickers before they’ll haul that stuff away.

Oak Park bills its residents quarterly for garbage. To save on administrative costs, they just tack it on the water and sewer bill, which makes for an unpleasant surprise every three months.

I was shocked to read some city residents are concerned that charging for garbage cans will result in some people throwing their trash into their neighbor’s can.

I can only say that I would never considering doing that to my neighbors — without first asking. And I would never admit it if I did.

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