City predicting $200,000 surplus at end of fiscal year

Naperville’s current fiscal year is moving ahead as expected — mostly.

There have been a few unforeseen developments, including a largely market-driven deficit in the electric utility fund that has grown to $14 million, and the unusually harsh winter that has added about $1.5 million to the expected outlay for street clearing and de-icing. Income, however, also has exceeded the sums included in the 2014 municipal budget.

“Revenues are higher than we expected, and expenditures are higher than we expected,” said Karen DeAngelis, the city’s finance director, in the last of several City Council budget workshops held in advance of next month’s adoption of a 2015 spending plan.

Final figures won’t be available until the end of the spending period April 30, but DeAngelis said there’s reason to expect some departmental funds will come in below spending projections, offsetting some of the shortfall.

“Overall we think we can still balance,” she said.

While the year-end surplus at the close of fiscal 2013 stood about $6 million, the current margin is much narrower. (The $6 million was funneled into the gap in the city’s public-safety pension funds, accelerating the time line for retiring that deficit by six years.) The funds available at the end of this budget year are expected to come to about $200,000.

The council spent some time discussing its options for applying that surplus before reaching some agreement that they would like to reduce residents’ expense for the rolling receptacles that later this year will be required for those who recycle.

City Manager Doug Krieger said bids were opened for the wheeled carts, and the low bid was about $1.8 million. When staff last year predicted their cost would be $2.3 million, council members agreed to add $4 to the customers’ monthly bills for 12 months, to help offset the expense. With the lower bid, and the $200,000 reduction of that expense, the residents’ share would likely be less, but updated figures were not immediately available.

Some council members want to pick up all or a portion of the tab, saying it appears punitive to charge customers for recycling and some will stop the practice.

The carts are a requirement of a pending extension of the city’s waste hauling contract, which includes a $2.43 monthly recycling fee. That sum — which is less than what is paid by residents in surrounding communities, according to city officials — could be locked in through 2024 under the recycling-cart program.

Despite the relative affordability of the service, Naperville does less recycling than neighboring towns. City data shows the average household recycling volume was 66 pounds per month in fiscal 2013, a decrease of 5 pounds compared to two years earlier. Officials want to boost recycling citywide, expressed as its diversion rate, to 40 percent of all solid waste. Data gathered in 2011 found the diversion rate was less than 30 percent, but put Naperville behind the rates in Lisle, Warrenville, Downers Grove, Woodridge and Wheaton — where more than 43 percent of the waste stream is diverted.

When the city conducted a periodic citizen satisfaction survey in 2012, more than 80 percent of those who responded said they wanted opportunities to do more recycling. When the Public Works Department conducted a separate poll, almost 64 percent supported the idea of a recycling cart program.

Councilwoman Judy Brodhead is optimistic that the rolling carts will re-engage some of those who have fallen out of the recycling habit, and encourage those who already do it to process more materials. The existing rectangular containers, most of which have no covers, require users to keep them in shelter on windy days to prevent lightweight materials from blowing out and littering the neighborhood. They also hold far less than the wheeled bins, which will be available in three sizes with capacities up to 95 gallons.

“I think we’ll really see the volume of recycling go up tremendously when people have these great big, nice, heavy, covered bins,” Brodhead said.