Following discussions on Delaware’s potential sewer and refuse rate increases this week, Delaware Councilwoman Lisa Keller suggested the city look into privatizing its trash collections.
After the first reading on sewer and refuse rate increases last month, Keller, who also serves on the City’s public works committee that would first consider the issue, wondered if privatization had ever been considered or examined in Delaware City.
It has been explored, but not since 1997, she told council members this week prior to a public hearing on the proposed sewer and refuse rate increases.
“We’re in the process of raising our refuse rates,” Keller said Thursday. “Even if it’s a minimal amount, we owe it to our rate payers to at least explore the option.”
Three-percent increases are proposed for both sewer and refuse operations this year with average city refuse rates increasing from $19.16 to $19.73. The proposed average sewer rates would see fees increasing from $45.15 to $46.50 if approved as proposed.
Although Keller said she isn’t sure if she would be in favor of switching to privatized trash service, she at least wanted to explore the option.
“We’re looking at some difficult financial times ahead,” Keller said. “We were anticipating the state government’s budget at least coming back and hitting us to some degree.”
Councilman Andrew Brush agreed that exploring the option was a good one.
“I think that my gut feeling is that we should continue handling refuse collection,” Brush said. “However, I think we would all be remiss if we made a determination based on a gut feeling and data collected 14 years ago.”
The issue will first be examined by the City’s public works committee. City Manager Tom Homan said that the committee would decide what aspects would be contracted out and a bid process would be conducted.
“It’s certainly worth a look,” said City Mayor Gary Milner, who also serves on the public works committee. “We’ve looked at it before, and it didn’t fly. But it’s one of those things where if we do privatize, we might be able to save money, but we also need to take care of citizens and give the service levels they expect.”
Approved last year, city residents’ water bills are increasing beginning May 1. This is the second year of the three-year water rate increase, which was approved to finance more than $30 million in water system improvements, many which are mandates by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Average city water users last year saw a 15-percent increase from $23.31 to $26.81. This year, their bills will increase another 15 percent from $26.81 to $30.49. A 13-percent increase will occur in 2012 from $30.49 to $33.63.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s mandates date back to the early 2000s, Delaware City Mayor Gary Milner has said. Then, council decided to spread out the increases instead of hitting residents with a 50- to 60-percent increase like many suburbs did during that time.
Council typically hosts at least three readings on any rate increases to give the public an opportunity to comment. A third reading on the proposed sewer and refuse rate increases — and possible adoption — is set for 7 p.m. March 28 in council’s second floor chambers, 1 S. Sandusky St. Any approved rate changes would take effect 30 days later on the May 1 billing.