Bloomington's Excessive Utility Fee Add-Ons

In Parts 1 and 2 our coverage highlighted Bloomington’s newly-imposed gas and electric franchise fees. Now we turn our focus to the utility fee on water bills, tagged as Curbside Cleanup.

The annual Bloomington Curbside Cleanup program is very popular with city residents.   They made that clear a few years ago when the Council voted to skip a year as a cost-saving measure.  The Bloomington water bill add-on of about $6 every 2 months ($36/year) for what used to be called “Solid Waste Fee” but is now tagged as “Citywide Curbside Cleanup” just adds to the taxes/fees tangle.     In any given year, about 45% of homeowners use this service, although almost all pay-in (“participate”) via the Fee.  In response to an inquiry, Councilman Jack Baloga stated: 

  “The actual number of participating charged customers is 23,900.  The actual cost paid to the contractor for this service was $598,013 for the year 2014, the last year of the old contract.  At renewal, request for bids were requested and only one bid was received.  That bid was for 2 years of service and with a dramatic cost increase.  The actual cost for 2015 was $997,238 and 2016 is anticipated to be about the same. There was a surplus in the program and this is covering the deficit for 2015 and 2016.  The program changes again in 2017 and costs are anticipated to be reduced to break even.”

Although the US Census estimates more than 9400 businesses, and 37,600 households in Bloomington, commercial properties and households in apartment/condominium complexes aren’t automatically allowed to participate (some do, for an added fee) and so are not charged on their city water bills.

The total revenue to City from the fee charged to homeowners will be $860,000 this year.    Page 40 of the city budget for 2015 showed the total cost of the program as $598,222, with the city responsible for only a portion (240,000) and Hennepin County (from our taxes) picking up 60% of the tab (County funding could be phased out).

Where was that extra $621,000 each year going the past few years?  It funded enough of a “surplus” for the program’s anticipated $275,000 total in shortfalls across 2015-2016, and then some.  The past-years’ annual excess looks to be about $26 per household.

With these non-related fees tossed in, the bottom-line of the utility bill is no longer a valid measure for any citizen trying to manage or conserve their own household’s use of resources like water, natural gas or electricity.  For anyone attempting to track the cost of city services and the funding allocated,   there are far more places to look beyond simply budget lines labeled “taxes”.   Lastly, those who itemize a deduction for taxes on their own Federal tax form miss out on over $120 of deductions next year by this shift to fees hidden within 3 utility statements, rather than a general tax.

And most households could buy a week of groceries with the more than $70 / year in excessive fees the city is collecting.