AUSTIN (KXAN) — Phil Howry has lived in the Lost Creek neighborhood since 1981. A little over a year ago, the neighborhood in southwest Travis County was annexed by the city of Austin, meaning his family now has to go through the city for its trash collection.
The reality is, he says his trash bill through Austin Resource Recovery is five times as expensive as it was paying a private company. That’s comparing apples to apples — if he were to continue having two 96-gallon trash cans under the city.
His complaint comes as the city asks Austin Resource Recovery to justify the rates it’s charging everyone in Austin. Those rates are approved by the city council.
“Obviously it’s a bottom line issue. It’s an affordability issue is what it really boils down to. And if there was some obvious benefit to the area, something the areas really received in return for that, some value added, that would be a discussion. Maybe that would be something to talk about,” Howry, who has written letters to Austin Resource Recovery, his council member and even the state, said.
ARR says not every resident will see their bills go up that much, and that can be avoided by opting for a smaller trash bin, saying, “ARR rates incentivize participating in recycling, composting and other programs to keep waste out of landfills.”
Neighbors want a clear answer from the city on the annexation — what’s in it for them?
“What’s been the benefit for this area? There is none. There’s no value added to it,” Howry said.
“The money that we get from the customers, it goes to pay for services,” ARR Interim Director Sam Angoori said.
The city says additional services include a weekly collection of yard trimmings, large brush collection twice a year and a larger recycling bin that the city picks up every other week, compared to every week under a private company that provided smaller bins.
Angoori says ultimately the larger trash bins are more expensive because of the city’s Zero Waste goal set in 2011, to deter people from contributing to the landfill.
“Our customers really need to look at the amount of trash that they throw away,” he said. “Ask the question, ‘Is it recyclable?'”
When asked, Angoori said he’s confident if customers had a choice, they’d choose city services, but Council Member Ellen Troxclair says no way — not with the increase in cost.
KXAN met with Troxclair to discuss the concerns that cropped up when Lost Creek neighbors received their first bill from ARR at the beginning of the year.
“I have yet to have an annexation discussion at City Hall where the neighborhood actually wants to be annexed. And it’s for this very reason,” she said. “The city is not demonstrating tangible value for the services that they’re providing and the extreme costs that they’re providing them.”
Last week, council approved a resolution Troxclair put forward, that calls on ARR and Austin Water to set affordability benchmarks like Austin Energy had to do several years ago. The move also calls on a cost comparison of those city utilities to private providers and others cities.
“There’s no accountability for the services that you get in return. And that has got to change,” Troxclair said.
KXAN requested a breakdown of where the money goes within ARR — particularly transfers to other departments. This money is all connected to ARR operations. It’s transparency like this that Troxclair’s resolution is seeking, to know the value being provided to customers and how that money is being spent.
In the future, neighborhoods will hold the power as to whether they’re annexed. A decision from the Texas legislature last session requires the consent of the majority of voters in a community to annex before a city can go forward.
Here’s a look at the rates Austin Resource Recovery customers are being charged. It’s all based on trash cart size. Choosing the largest, a 96-gallon trash bin means you’ll pay almost double the per-gallon rate, for a total of $42.85 per month. Dallas charges just over $27 a month for the same size.
|Trash Cart Size||Monthly Rates|
*Includes base fee of $14.05. Carts 64-gallons and smaller cost $0.16 per gallon; the 96-gallon cart costs $0.30 per gallon.
Something else to keep in mind, if you have extra bags that don’t fit in your trash cart, you’ll be charged $9.60 per bag.