After Raising Water Rates, Phoenix Raises Trash, Recycling Fees

By Christina Estes, Mark Brodie
Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 8:25am
Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 3:47pm

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Christina Estes/KJZZ

After raising water rates last year, the Phoenix City Council approved higher solid waste fees this year and next.

How Much?

Starting in April, residential customers will pay $3.75 more each month. Then, in January 2021, their solid waste services bill will go up another $3.25.

Without the increase, the Public Works Department said it would have to cut staff and reduce services, including recycling. Many people spoke in support of the rate hike during Tuesday’s council meeting including Kimber Lanning, who founded Local First Arizona, a nonprofit that supports local, independent small businesses.

Lanning told the council she’s no fan of fees and they should not be taken lightly, but: “I think sending a message that Phoenix is not a leader in mitigating climate change and policies that will lead us to be a sustainable city is a mistake and, frankly, it’s bad for business.”

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who along with Councilman Jim Waring, voted against the increase said, “We have the working class and seniors who are going to be basically paying their disproportionate share of this. They’re on fixed incomes, they cannot afford it any longer.”

Rate History

The Public Works Department last raised rates 11 years ago. Public Works Driector Ginger Spencer said in order to go that long without an increase required the department to put off buying equipment and vehicles. They also drew down on the department’s fund balance.

The department was getting by, but then China enacted a new policy in January 2018 basically banning most recyclables. At that time, China had been taking about half the world’s recyclable waste and Phoenix shipped about 80% of its recyclables to China while collecting money for the materials.

For fiscal year 2017-18 Phoenix collected nearly $9 million from selling recyclables. This fiscal year, the forecast is $3.3 million. They’ve forecasted zero for next year because they just don’t know what to expect.

Spencer said a lot of material is now going to Indonesia and the city has a contract with Republic Services to process recyclables and sell them.

She said they currently have a market for all recyclables except for mixed plastics – items with the number seven on them. These are not your plastic water bottles or shampoo bottles, they are a mix of plastics and generally the toughest to recycle. Spencer said Phoenix has a contract with the company Renewlogy to try to turn mixed plastics into fuel.

Why Now?

There’s been internal discussion at city hall about raising rates for about two years, and in public meetings over the last 18 months or so, there have been references about the need to evaluate and consider rate hikes.

Around the same time, the city’s water department said it needed to raise its rates. Plus, the city manager wanted a committee to review the department’s revenues, expenses and make recommendations. That committee of six people representing business, industry and community leaders was created in June 2018.

In 2019, the committee recommended the city hire a consultant to conduct a comprehensive cost of service and rate design study. That study was presented last October, and in November, the committee's four options were presented to the council. Staff was directed to conduct public outreach and meetings before the council voted to maintain current service levels.

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