Tampa City Council passes garbage rate hike

02/16/12 Janelle Irwin
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The cost of garbage collection in Tampa is going up for residents and businesses. During the Tampa City Council meeting this morning, eleven people came to tell officials that would create a hardship for many rate payers.

Tampa residents will see a 12% inflation of their garbage bill on April 1. And it’s no joke. Rick Pheifer said he doesn’t usually go to City Council meetings, but he made an exception to tell council members that he can’t afford to fork over more money on a bill he already struggles to pay; especially when there might be other options.

“Since the city has expanded the large dumpsters and the recycling, I only have to put my trash barrel out probably once about every three trash pickup days. Before increasing the rates, I think you need to look at whether or not you can cut back the number of days you have to pick up which would save a considerable amount of money.”

And the city does needs to do something. Revenues aren’t meeting operating costs and the department is sinking further and further into the hole. Their plan to meet rising costs includes a series of rate hikes, 12 percent each year for five years. Tampa resident Pete Johnson said council members should look into a pay-as-you-throw system, like his former residence in Plantation.

“You bought your trash bags at the grocery store. They were made by the city or had city stamped on them and you were charged by how many bags you used.”

The city’s solid waste department is sitting on $109 million in bonds that have to be paid by 2021. Without an immediate rate increase to sustain operating costs, the city would suffer a crippling credit blow. Resident Carol Cameron claimed one way to save money would be to do away with curbside recycling.

“Are there certain items that aren’t cost effective but certain items that are cost effective? Because, frankly, if I know the city is losing 3 million dollars a year, why am I going to continue to recycle? I think that’s just absurd.

On the flip side of that argument, Mary Stephenson recycles religiously. She throws away a fraction of what neighbors toss.

“I object to having to pay an increased rate for people who do not take the time to recycle. I think there are many of examples of volume based, variable rate systems throughout the state and the country and I think they should be considered.

Her objection echoed another Tampa resident who thought recycling should be rewarded. Michael Wheat said the city is missing out on possible revenue.

“How about giving a discount to those who recycle. The price of aluminum has skyrocketed like every other metal commodity out there. And these trash hauling companies are making a ton of money off of people recycling. Where’s that money generated going? I don’t see it. Does the city get to get a kickback on that?

Mary Mulhern and Frank Reddick were the only city council members to vote against the rate increase. Reddick said he’s tired of watching neighbors struggle to fill their cars with gas and people in the grocery store hand use red, white and blue food stamp cards to pay for their groceries.

“Everything is going up except your paycheck. And we’re not getting additional money, but we’re paying more and more and more in fees. If that’s not a hardship for some of these people, I don’t know what you call a hardship.”

So what then? Get rid of recycling? Increase it? Cut back on pick up days? Representing the Virginia Park neighborhood association, attorney Spencer Kass came with a laundry list of suggestions including freezing salary increases. But he said,

“Worst case scenario is the department goes and cuts his expenses down to the point that they have to cut it to live within their means. Just like every citizen and every person on this council has to. That’s all we’re asking: live within your means. We said to them: why don’t you put out a request for proposal? Why don’t you find out if this can be provided cheaper by private companies? They’re not interested in that. That’s what we were told. We’re not interested in that and you can’t tell us what to do. Well you know what? They can’t tell this council what to do. It’s entirely under your discretion if you want to increase those rates or not.”

On March 1st City Council will also consider another solid waste rate hike that would require commercial trash haulers to pay the city a franchise fee. It passed on first reading 6-1.

Susan Long, past president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association

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