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posted: 10/24/2012 10:36 AM

Rolling Meadows asks residents about privitizing garbage

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It seems the Rolling Meadows referendum on privatizing refuse collection would be just a matter of dollars and cents. But garbage can be an emotional issue in the suburbs.

Rolling Meadows voters Nov. 6 will vote on an advisory referendum asking them whether the city should turn trash collection over to a private company rather or keep it as a function of the public works department.

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Each household would save $60 a year if the city contracted with a private company rather than have its own employees take the garbage away, according to proposals the city has received from two companies.

The initial contract would last seven years with price increases limited to 2.5 percent annually -- less than the 3.25 percent increase ceiling the city promises. The companies also promise to pick up, at no additional cost, the array of items that the city now collects, including major appliances and even construction debris under certain conditions.

But despite the potential savings, some in the city oppose any move to privatize trash collection.

Mayor Tom Rooney cannot explain what it is about garbage that makes people emotional.

"Every city that I talked to when we did our survey in 2010 said 'Oh, you guys are going through that fight. Definitely better thee than me,'" Rooney said. "But all of them reported the fireworks died down very quickly, and it was back to business as usual."

Rolling Meadows is one of the few suburban communities that still uses public employees to collect garbage. And they do a terrific job, say residents who oppose privatization.

Real estate agent Laura Majikes said she uses the service as a selling point for homes in Rolling Meadows.

"When a bag rips, and you have stuff all over the place the men clean it up," said Majikes, an agent with Coldwell Banker. "They are considerate of the look of our community."

City refuse workers also can notice issues such as streets that need repairs, their supporters say.

Rooney, a supporter of privatization, agrees that the city service is probably better than what a private company will provide -- just not $60 per household better. The city would also realize a one-time benefit of about $400,000 selling its equipment, he adds.

"We have a very hard time finding ways to save money in our budget," he said. "If you raise property taxes $60 a year, people scream about it."

No employees in the city's refuse division would lose their jobs if the city goes private. This is because Fred Vogt, director of public works, has purposely held off on filling positions, said Rooney.

Although the Nov. 6 referendum is not binding, Rooney said he expects city aldermen will go along with voters' wishes.

The council and city staff has put a lot of time and effort into the issue, including appointing a committee to study it and holding two informational meetings leading up to the vote. About 70 people attended the two meetings and strongly supported keeping the city service, said Rooney.

City Manager Barry Krumstok has placed an explanatory document on the city's website, and Rooney has added a chart that provides points for each side. A note asks residents to send suggestions for adding arguments, but no one has.

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