Emanuel pushes garbage collection overhaul

August 12, 2011 (CHICAGO)

He is pushing a plan that he estimates could save up to $60 million a year.

Emanuel says the city could trim nearly 10 percent of its $635 million deficit by simply changing the way Chicago collects its garbage.

The only catch is that aldermen would have to give up their control of the system.

"The residents of our wards don't go to City Hall to scream at the mayor," said 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns. "They come to our ward offices and scream at us."

Burns says that when residents call his office, it is usually related to one of the services provided by the Streets and Sanitation department.

"If it's not about public safety or about a pothole, it's about trees that need to be trimmed and garbage that needs to be picked up and vacant lots that need to be cleaned," said Burns.

Each of the city's 50 wards has its own Streets and Sanitation yard run by its own ward supervisor, who takes most of his orders from the alderman as opposed to the Streets and Sanitation commissioner. The system has been how Chicago has cleaned its streets, trimmed its trees and picked up its garbage since the early 20th century.

"Our system is stuck in decades-old policies we have not modernized for the 21st century," said Emanuel.

Emanuel says the per-ton cost of Chicago's ward-based garbage collection system is $60 million more than if the city were divided into fewer service grids like other large cities.

"Chicago spends, as I said, 225 to 235 per ton where other cities, Philadelphia, Los Angeles are spending a fraction of that cost," said Emanuel.

Burns and other aldermen say the only way they would agree to a grid system is if they were allowed to at least keep their ward superintendents.

"I like having somebody who drives the streets of the 4th Ward day in and day out, gets to know what the community looks like, sees the vacant lots, knows where the problem areas are, and that's what my ward superintendent does," said Burns.

On Friday, Emanuel publicly agreed to retain the ward superintendents, and while he insisted a grid system remained an open question, he sounded already sold on the idea.

"If somebody has another way to find $60 million in savings, the door is open, the suggestion box is open, bring it forward," said Emanuel.

The mayor's public discussion of a grid system at his news conference Friday was a huge hint that some version of this is likely to be part of his 2012 budget to be released in October.

This idea has been around for at least the past decade. The fiscal pressures and the fact rahm emanuel does not carry the political baggage of his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, could make it a reality within months.

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