The LaPorte County Solid Waste District Board was ready to approve a $2 monthly increase for curbside recycling for homeowners, but that changed when apartments entered the discussion.
Homeowners currently pay the equivalent of $4 monthly on their property tax bills to pay for recycling and other solid waste collections aimed at diverting waste from landfills.
Owners of apartment buildings with four or more units pay $3 per unit, Executive Director Clay Turner told the board. That arrangement was worked out about a decade ago after landlords complained they were paying more than their fair share. Tenants of those buildings have to take their recyclables to a central dumpster at the complex instead of having curbside recycling.
Until County Councilman Earl Cunningham, R-at large, told the board that landlords are already suffering during the pandemic, with a ban on evictions and some renters not paying on time, at least some of the council members didn’t realize apartments weren’t included in the planned fee increase.
“A 50% increase is huge, even if it’s a small amount,” Cunningham said. “They’re not going to raise the rent from $300 to $302 to cover that.”
LaPorte Mayor Tom Dermody, a member of the solid waste board, said the fee increase should apply to everyone, not just homeowners.
“I agree 150% with mayor Dermody on this apartment complex issue,” said Michigan City Councilman Don Przybylinski, D-at large, who is also a solid waste board member. "They should be on the same level as any homeowner.”
“You’re going to see a lot larger outcry than you did tonight,” Turner predicted. “It’s not really costing us any more money to service them.”
The board received little public comment on the proposed fee increase at Thursday’s Zoom meeting. Two who joined the call spoke in favor of the increase but asked for additional services.
Sheila Matias asked how assisted living units are handled. “They’re apartments, just like everybody else,” she said. “We need to make sure there’s equity across all ratepayers regardless of what sector they live in.”
Assisted living units pay a fee but don’t get curbside recycling services from the district, Turner said.
County Commissioner Joe Haney, a Republican, said the board cut $100,000 from the budget Feb. 1. “After two hours, we squeezed about every penny out of the budget that we could." A fee increase is needed to address the budget shortfall, he said.
“Recycling has never paid for itself,” Turner said.
The board plans to meet again at 5 p.m. Feb. 22 to consider the rate increase.