Council hearing notebook: Arguing about the trash fee

Earlier today, top officials from the Nutter Administration appeared before City Council to explain and defend the revenue proposals in their budget plan, including a $300 fee on residental properties for trash collection.

The hearing lasted nearly 5 hours, so this isn't intended to be a complete summary, but here are the arguments made in support of and in opposition to the fee.

Steve Agostini (City Budget Director): Agostini pointed to the drop in tax revenue during the recession to explain the city's need for more money, and outlined the measures the administration has already taken, including spending cuts, a sales tax increase, and a freeze in tax cuts, to explain why be believes the trash fee is necessary. He did say, however, that the administration is open to working with Council on alternatives to the fee.

Clarena Tolson (Streets Commissioner): Tolson testified that the trash fee is the best option available for raising money to preserve services and personnel. She also said that expanding recycling initiatives would help residents defer the cost of the fee, mostly by rewarding them with coupons. Tolson argued that imposing a flat fee on property owners (as opposed to charging residents for the amount of waste they produce) is the easiest way to collect the money.

Councilman Bill Green: Green questioned the structure of the trash fee. He repeatedly asked if the city had considered “Pay-As-You-Throw”, which would charge residents for the amount of trash they produce, rather than a flat fee.

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller: Miller asked why the proposed trash fee would be permanent, if most of the budget issues are due to the recession. She also questioned whether the fee is fair to seniors and other people living on a fixed income.

Councilman Goode: Throughout the hearing, Goode brought up the point that pension costs are a huge part of the city budget. He characterized the trash fee as a “pension fee,” since much of the money would go to pension payments for retired workers. He said the same thing about the soda tax. He made no additional proposals about how to deal with the pension issue.

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