Houston solid waste department employees assist in a homeless encampment cleanup. (Courtesy Houston Solid Waste Management Department)

Houston may no longer be able to maintain its status as the only major city in Texas to not charge residents for trash collection, a new report from the city’s solid waste department states. Instead, department leaders are proposing levying up to $30 in monthly fees for some residents.

In its proposed 20-year long-range plan published in mid-September, the solid waste department lists increased recycling costs, shrinking space in landfills and aging equipment as reasons Houston needs to look for new revenue sources to address the city’s growing needs.

By 2040, five of the 12 privately owned landfills the city uses will have remaining capacity if none are expanded or new ones are not built, according to the draft plan.

“The City of Houston generates 4.2 million tons of municipal waste each year,” said Harry Hayes, director of the Houston Solid Waste Management Department, in a news release. “Because of the projected growth, it is imperative that we look at the next 20 years and identify solid waste management strategies with the goal of reducing the amounts of waste generated.”

The draft plans states that not only will the solid waste department struggle to keep up with demand over the next 20 years, but it may also need to scale back its services if it cannot find new revenue sources, most likely through new monthly fees.

Houston City Council, however, has sparred over new fees in the past.

Mayor Sylvester Turner opposed a solid waste collection fee proposed in March 2019 but later reversed his position when Houston was facing a budget shortfall from the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout.

In a split vote in June, council members approved a $1.14 monthly garbage bin lease fee to address Houston’s budget gap. The solid waste department is supported by the city’s general fund, so besides the bin lease fee, residents do not pay additional fees on top of city taxes for trash collection.

The draft long-range plan includes a proposal to create a specific fund for the department supported by two new fees for residents. All residents and commercial businesses would pay an environmental fee ranging from $2-$5, which would fund citywide efforts such as illegal dumping cleanup and prevention. Single-family home residents receiving city trash and recycling collection would also pay $21-$26 per month for the services, according to the proposal.

If the additional monthly fees in the long-range plan are implemented, an estimated $44 million increase in annual revenue for the department would be used to clean up waste left from illegal dumping, clean homeless encampments, open more recycling depositories, upgrade equipment and potentially build city-owned landfills, the draft states.

As compared to other major cities in Texas, monthly service fees and smaller environmental fees are not unusual and are sometimes higher. For service fees, Austin charges $18-$43 per month, and San Antonio charges $15-$28 per month. In the Greater Houston area, monthly service fees range from $13 in Missouri City to $27 in Baytown, according to the report.

Residents have until Oct. 31 to answer a survey about Houston’s draft plan. Once formally adopted, all of the plan’s proposals, including the new fees, will not be automatically adopted but rather used as a framework for the mayor and the solid waste department in future policymaking.

The city also plans to host two virtual information sessions to answer questions about the plan and accept feedback.

The meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 13. College and high school students can tune into a special “Leaders of Tomorrow” virtual event related to the plan at 5 p.m. on Oct. 14.

Find more information about the virtual meetings and fill out the city survey here.

Read the full report here.