By Sue Botos
While the possible privatization of trash pickup is still under consideration, city officials want to make clear this is a separate issue from the proposed income tax hike City Council is considering placing on the November ballot.
It has been about a year since Mayor Pam Bobst and Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District Executive Director Diane Bickett faced a rowdy crowd at the Don Umerley Civic Center to discuss refuse removal options. At that meeting, residents vehemently defended the current city-run method of trash scooters gathering waste from backyards, and almost shouted down Republic Waste representative David Kidder, who cut short his presentation.
Through dialogues during the past year, Bobst says she has seen outsourcing of trash pickup gain some support among residents, but she added that there is long way to go until a decision is made. “We haven’t eliminated the possibility of charging for refuse collection, but our goal is to develop a refuse and recycling system that meets with various needs of the community,” she told West Life.
As it stands, trash removal costs the city $2.4 million yearly, including the maintenance of city-owned scooters and packing trucks. The service is supplemented by a 1-mill property tax, which amounts to about $680,000 annually. The balance must be provided by the city’s general fund.
Bobst said some steps could be taken that would not affect residents, such as hiring independent contractors to haul all compacted waste from the city transfer station on Lake Road to landfills. Currently, city-owned trucks and workers do a portion of the job.
No jobs would be sacrificed for privatization, according to Bobst, and workers would be rotated to other duties.
A possible charge for trash pickup is another option being weighed, and Bobst said she has had several homeowners indicate that they would be willing to pay to maintain the status quo.
While there is a slight possibility that the trash question could appear on a ballot, there is a stronger chance that residents will be asked to decide on an income tax increase in November. Bobst wanted to stress that this is a separate issue, and cannot be used to fund trash pickup.
“The income tax is only for capital expenditures,” Bobst said. She has explained that this money would replace the now-defunct estate tax, which generated upward of $2 million for the city each year.
Bobst said that she and finance Director Michael Thomas have studied income numbers over the past few years. They found that an increase of 0.5 percent to the tax, from the current 1.5 percent, would make up for that $2 million. She added that the tax credit paid to those residents working outside the city will, if approved by voters, also be raised from 1 to 1.5 percent. While not increasing this payment would mean more money for the city, Bobst said, “We don’t want to take more than we need.”
Bobst also emphasized that any legislation regarding the issue of trash or income tax approved by council would only pave the way to place them on a ballot. “We would allow residents to have a voice and make the decision,” she said.
Completely unrelated to any local income tax discussion is HB 5, the municipal income tax standardization legislation now being discussed in Columbus. “We’re watching this closely so it will have no negative impact on what we’re doing,” Bobst said. She added that the city could lose $553,000 if the bill is passed.