3/26/08

Residential garbage fee hiked to pay Teamsters

Toledo City Council, after hours of wrangling, last night approved a general fund operating budget for 2008 that includes an increase from $5.50 to $7 a month for the city’s trash collection fee.

However, those who recycle will see their rate drop a dollar, from $3 to $2 a month.

The 8-4 vote came after a debate that became so testy that Councilman Betty Shultz motioned to adjourn the meeting, although no other council members supported the move.

The trash fee, which raises about $4.8 million a year and would have expired April 30 had it not been approved by council, will increase again on May 1, 2009, to $8.50 a month for those who don’t recycle and drop to $1 for those who do.

Beginning May 1, 2010, the fee will increase again to $10 a month for those who don’t recycle, and drop to zero for those who participate in recycling.

The current fee is $5.50 a month, or $3 for those who pledge to participate in curbside recycling.

Councilmen Joe McNamara and D. Michael Collins crafted the new proposal aimed at encouraging more Toledoans to recycle.

Voting to approve the fee were Councilmen McNamara, Collins, Mike Craig, George Sarantou, Mrs. Shultz, Mark Sobczak, Tom Waniewski, and Wilma Brown.

“We are moving to killing the refuse fee by 2010,” Mr. McNamara said.

Voting no were Councilmen Phil Copeland, Frank Szollosi, Lindsay Webb, and Michael Ashford.

Mr. Sarantou previously introduced a trash fee schedule that would have continued the current fee until May 1, 2009, at which time it would have increased to $8.50 a month for those who recycle and $1 a month for those who don’t.

His plan also had the fee raised to $10 for those who don’t recycle, and drop to zero for those who participate in recycling by 2010.

That measure was tabled by an 8-4 vote after Mr. McNamara requested the vote.

Mr. Copeland, Mr. Sarantou, Mrs. Shultz, and Mr. Sobczak voted against tabling that amendment.

The vote on the trash fee came after city Law Director John Madigan announced that Mr. Sobczak, vice president of Teamsters Local 20, which represents refuse collection employees, would not have to abstain from the vote.

It’s not clear how many Toledoans will opt for the recycling discount.

When the current fee went into effect, the Finkbeiner administration predicted the rate of recycling would increase from 17 percent to about 40 percent because of the $2.50 monthly savings. Instead, the recycling level only increased to about 26 percent.

Although he later voted to approve the $7/$2 trash fee, Mr. Sobczak labeled it as “unconscionable” because renters may not get the option to pay the recycling rate.

That brought a retort from Mr. Collins, who noted that the fee didn’t exist at all last year until it was enacted, with Mr. Sobczak’s support.

After the trash fee debacle was settled, council spent three hours on what appeared to be last-minute adjustments to the operating budget.

Mr. Szollosi pushed for votes on a number of changes to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s proposed $254.2 million budget, which is a 2.7 percent increase over the 2007 spending level.

Mr. Sobczak said Mr. Szollosi was calling for last-minute changes.

“That was a gross mischaracterization,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Council approved three additional cuts to the budget, totalling $424,000, which gave them money to move up the city’s next police class. The cuts were achieved by:

• Eliminating $100,000 through a hiring freeze and not filling vacancies.

• Cutting $400,000 from the fund that covers the city’s fleet of vehicles — taking that fund from $11.1 million to $10.7 million.

• Taking back $24,000 from the municipal court personal services fund.

Mr. Szollosi said he intended for those cuts to be used as a way to completely kill the trash fee.

“Once it became clear that the votes were there to continue the trash fee, I could have put up a fight or I could use the savings to accelerate the police and fire classes,” he said.

Council unanimously approved Ms. Webb’s suggestion that the new police class begin Oct. 1 and firefighters on Dec. 1, at a cost of about $290,000, instead of both classes starting on Dec. 1.

That left the city with a surplus of $134,000.

Mr. Collins said starting the police class in December would have resulted in fewer than 630 officers in the city at the start of 2009 because 30 officers are expected to retire at the end of this year.

Council also voted 10-2 to allocate $75,000 toward the salary of a director of economic development and $25,000 to the publicly funded Lucas County Improvement Corp.

Mayor Finkbeiner is the city’s director of economic development. Mr. Craig and Mr. Ashford voted no.

The vote to approve the budget, after the revisions, was 9-3. Voting against were Mr. Collins, Mr. Szollosi, and Mr. Ashford.

After the meeting, Mr. Szollosi said: “I felt as though we could realize greater savings and I feel as though the extension of the garbage tax is unfair to the citizens.”

(toledoblade.com)

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