San Antonio – While most areas of the city’s FY 2023 budget appear to be doing well so far, one part stinks — literally and figuratively.
In a quarterly budget update to San Antonio City Council members Wednesday, city staff said the Solid Waste Operating and Maintenance Fund is not “structurally balanced,” and a rate increase is likely for the 2024 fiscal year, which starts in October.
It is not yet clear how much that increase could be.
The current monthly solid waste fee is either $14.76, $18.76, or $26.76, depending on if a home has a small, medium, or large trash cart.
When combined with two environmental fees for solid waste and parks, customers end up paying $18, $22, or $30 per month as part of their CPS Energy bills.
The city’s trash collection is completely funded out of the Solid Waste Operating and Maintenance Fund, which draws most of its revenue from customers’ solid waste and environmental fees, which have remained flat for four years.
Meanwhile, city staff say personnel, equipment, fuel, and landfill fees have increased. And although the city has been able to stave off a rate hike by eating into the fund’s existing balance, that money is quickly running out.
The city ended the 2021 fiscal year in September with $15.1 million in the Solid Waste Operating and Maintenance Fund, according to the adopted budget, but it expects to end the current fiscal year with only $454,000.
“The way the Solid Waste fee works, it is a static fee. It is one price for the garbage can, and that’s it,” Solid Waste Management Department Director David Newman told KSAT after the meeting. “But our costs continue to increase. So we either are going to have to increase the rate, or we reduce service.”
Customers haven’t seen a change in their trash bills since FY 2020, when the price of small carts was cut by $2.
Although the monthly environmental fee for solid waste was also cut by $0.50 across the board that year, customers didn’t feel that since it was matched by a corresponding $0.50 hike in the environmental fee for parks.
The year prior, in FY 2019, the monthly rate for large carts increased by $4.32, while the cost for the small and medium carts was cut by $0.93 as the city tried to incentivize customers to downsize their carts.
The likelihood of an increase has been openly discussed since at least May 2022, and the FY 2023 budget the council adopted in September 2022 specifically states “a rate increase to the Solid Waste Fee and/or the Environmental Fee will be considered for FY 2024 Budget.”
City staff are expected to present a specific rate proposal during the mid-year budget presentation in May.
“I know it’s not a popular thing and we’ve talked about that internally,” City Manager Erik Walsh told Councilman Clayton Perry during Wednesday’s meeting. “And we want to make sure that we continue to do that hard work to lay out for you and the rest of the council at the (mid-year budget presentation) and ultimately the proposed budget, something that is responsible, that does not reduce services, as David mentioned, and is still be very reliable.”