City Council overhauls yard waste collections, increases recycling fee

After a lengthy discussion, the Springfield City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an overhaul to the city’s yard-waste collection program, along with a 50 percent increase in the city’s waste and recycling fee to help pay for it.

The new yard-waste pickup arrangement will replace the city’s longstanding program that provided free curbside pickups for a few weeks in the spring and fall and required residents to attach $2 stickers to yard-waste bags to have them collected during other times of the year.

Now, the collection program will use a set schedule of no-sticker pickups every other week from April through December. The plan still will include four straight weeks of pickups in the fall, when yard waste is most plentiful.

The new program will cost the city $770,440 this year, or $243,700 more than the previously enacted program was expected to cost.

To help cover the cost, alderman approved an increase in the city’s waste and recycling fee — which is applied to most residents’ monthly City Water, Light and Power bill — from $3 to $4.50. The fee increase, which amounts to $18 a year or nine yard waste bags with stickers, will take effect on July 1. According to city budget officials, the increase could generate an additional $660,000 in revenue.

Without the new revenue, operating expenses of the city’s waste and recycling fund would have exceeded revenue by nearly $300,000 in fiscal year 2021.

The former yard-waste collection system, adopted after the city’s leaf-burning ban in the 1990s, led to confusion among the waste haulers that pick up grass clippings and leaves and residents who may set out lawn waste too late for free pickup, according to city officials.

“We’ve got to eliminate this ridiculousness,” said Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso. “I mean we have got to do something. The first thing people see when they come to this city from the outside is it’s dirty, it doesn’t look nice. ... If people work this (new) program correctly and we keep an eye on things, then that’s going to fix the broken system.”

Council members agreed a change was needed, with the debate mostly revolving on how to pay for the increased services. Despite some concerns that even an increased waste and recycling fee would not present a viable revenue stream long term, they settled on that as a solution for now.

Outgoing Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen, who proposed the $1.50 increase, said most of his constituents, who he said bought at least 15 stickers a year under the old system, saw the value of moving away from the sticker program.