Ben Henderson

Send Me Your Ideas

I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the new Garbage Utility Fees, both to clarify a confusing  situation and to get a feel from all of you how to move forward.

In July, City Council voted to turn our waste collection services into a full utility. Prior to that citizens had been paying a utility fee for the processing part of the operation, i.e. the recycling and the landfill. The collection side of the operation, the trucks picking up the garbage from your house, had been paid for using tax revenues. With the recent change both portions now will be paid using the utility fee. Essentially each house will pay a flat fee for the collection and processing of their garbage.

So as not to charge citizens twice for the same service, residential property taxes will be cut by 2% to cover the increase in utility fee. The problem is that we have gone from a property tax system where people with lower valued properties paid less tax, to a fee system where everyone will pay the same amount. For people at the higher end of the tax scale, the 2% cut will be the same as the increase in the utility fee, but for those on the lower end of the tax scale the new utility fee will be greater than the tax cut. To try to even this disparity out, the City for the first year will take another amount of money from its tax revenues and use it to provide a rebate to those homeowners who would have seen increases in cost as we go from property tax to flat fee. So for this year we can commit to the switch being cost neutral for all of our citizens. No-one will pay more under the new system than they would have done in the old.

What has yet to be decided is what happens in the future. One of the possible advantages to going to a utility fee is that it ties cost of providing the service to how much citizens pay. In a perfect world we would be able to also give citizens the chance to adjust their fee according to their use of the service. For instance for a utility fee to really work we should be able to lower costs by producing less garbage. If we want to bring our fees down we put out less garbage. To me this seems much fairer than a flat fee to all households. To date, the city has chosen not to go down this road because citizens told us loud and clear they did not want something like a ‘Tag and Bag’ program.  But I am not sure they saw a flat fee as the alternative.

So as we move forward it seems to me there are three options. We can either stay with the flat fee per household, we can continue the flat fee but also continue the rebate program for those who have traditionally been on the lower end of the tax scale, or we can try to develop a true utility system that would allow people to be charged based on how much garbage they produce and how much therefore they use the system.

My final observation is that this kind of user fee only really is appropriate for services where it is in all of our interest to try to discourage heavy use of the system. I think we all recognize that the less garbage we produce as a city the better we all are, so a system that rewards people for limiting the amount of garbage they produce does have its benefits for all of us. But I also recognize that this is an area that people have strong feelings about and it is for that reason that I wanted to get a sense of what it is you want. So once again I put these ideas out there as a question. Please let me know what you think and I will use your ideas to help us move forward in the future.