By Sue Botos
By next month, residents may get their first look at what it will take to keep the city’s iconic trash collection system in place.
At Monday’s City Council committee session, Mayor Pam Bobst announced that a fee of $8 to $10 may be tacked on to monthly sewer bills to cover the cost of “backyard” refuse collection. Legislation covering the fee is expected to be introduced to council in January.
Bobst stated that the fee was necessary to keep the collection process, during which scooters retrieve trash from the backyards of those with long driveways, functioning. She noted that a dedicated property tax, which raises $659,000 annually, and $500,000 from the general fund were not enough to keep the service in place in 2014, and that an additional $657,000 will be needed.
According to recent studies done by the city, trash collection amounts to about $26.63 monthly per houshold.
The move comes on the heels of voter rejection of an income tax hike from 1.5 to 2 percent in November. While Bobst has emphasized that the tax and refuse collection were two separate entities, she said the income tax increase, which was expected to raise about $2 million, would have eased the pressure on the general fund, allowing more dollars for trash collection.
Bobst said that the city would be “embarking on an inventory and audit” of the refuse and recycling in the city, calculating the costs of collection for both daily trash and large bulky items. In addition, she stated that the city’s practice of picking up waste from multifamily developments and commercial buildings will be reconsidered. Bobst said that among neighboring communities, this service is “rare.”
With the elimination of “task days,” during which service employees could go home after completion of their duties but still be paid for an entire day, Bobst said trash collection may also be consolidated into four days, Tuesday to Friday. This move, she stated, would eliminate overtime now paid to make up for Monday holidays.
Councilman at Large Dave Furry expressed concern that residents may interpret the fee as a way to get dollars in lieu of the rejected income tax hike.
Bobst responded that a fee covers something that benefits residents. “If you want a service in place you will have to pay for it,” she stated. “I wish I didn’t have to deliver this news, but I have to,” she added.
It was also pointed out by Bobst that after two years, the program would be re-evaluated. She said that council could vote to discontinue the fee service at any point.
Finance Director Michael Thomas added that there are other, supporting factors for the current refuse program that are not figured into its cost. For example, he said that there is annual depreciation of equipment, and that two mechanics at the city service garage are almost totally dedicated to the care of the scooters and packer trucks.
At a May 2012 public meeting, residents expressed mostly negative feelings toward an automated collection system, which would cost them nothing. Bobst is urging residents to contact her with their opinions, and said that public meetings will take place to further discuss trash options.