This year, is trash-pickup fee an idea Council can't refuse?

Would a trash fee smell better this year?

Faced with a growing deficit and limited options, Mayor Nutter and his aides have discussed charging a trash-collection fee, sources tell the Daily News.

If this seems like deja vu, it's because the administration floated the idea last year. It met with resounding criticism from the public and City Council. Nutter canned the whole thing.

But the city again has a big hole in its budget. The deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1, is $125 milion-$150 million. Over the next five years, it's projected at $500 million-$700 million.

Finance Director Rob Dubow said that it was still too early to talk about what was in the budget, stressing that many items are up for consideration.

"You could write that about any one of 50 things," Dubow said. "It's still not done."

But Dubow did stress that the administration will have to make some difficult choices to close the gap.

"We're facing a problem next year of at least 120 million dollars. We're not going to be able to close that without doing things that are really hard," Dubow said.

Nutter is to give his budget address on March 4. Cuts are expected. The administration reportedly also has considered a tax on sugary drinks.

Just how Philly might set up a trash fee this time around was not clear. Last year, during preliminary budget sessions, the city suggested a $5 weekly fee per household for trash collection - a model that would have raised between $85 million and $105 million annually. The administration also floated the idea of a small household fee based on income coupled with a weekly per-bag charge.

Many cities are battling budget deficits with new or additional fees, said Chris Hoene, director of Research for the National League of Cities.

"The response of using fees to generate additional revenue is something that we're seeing across the nation," Hoene said.

Thousands of municipalities across the country - including San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin - charge for trash collection.

Councilman Jim Kenney said that a fee like this could help preserve city services.

"I think that it's never going to be popular," Kenney said. "But I think that people want services, there's got to be some method of paying for it. It's tough times and the economy is still down and tax revenues are still down and [Nutter's] got a city to run. And the only options you have are cutting services and cutting employees."

Cleveland's City Council last year voted in a trash fee proposed by the mayor to ease a budget gap. The $8-a-month charge - expected to raise $7.8 million in the current financial year - took effect Jan. 1.

Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek said he voted for the fee reluctantly.

"It falls very heavily on homeowners, and especially on folks that might be on limited or fixed incomes," said Polensek, who said he backed the fee because he couldn't get support for an alternate plan to increase the income tax.