Tread carefully on that garbage fee hike

Johnson City Press • Apr 25, 2018 at 8:00 AM

No local politician would admit to loving tax increases. Certainly, no one enjoys a higher tax bill.

The latter also applies to government fees, which elected officials usually have an easier time approving.

Bureaucrats will argue that they are not the same, but the effect on your wallet is: You pay more for government services. We can’t help but roll our eyes when we hear talk of a “fee increase” in lieu of a tax hike.

Johnson City’s public works director, Phil Pindzola, asked the City Commission on Monday to increase the city’s monthly garbage pickup fee from $9 per month to $11 in the upcoming budget cycle. A $2 monthly hike — $24 per year — doesn’t sound like much until you realize that’s a 22 percent increase.

Paying the pickup fee is one of those fine-print payments that most look right past. That $9 is tacked onto your water bill, which you have to pay if you want to keep the taps flowing.

Pindzola says he needs the $2 hike in part to fund a renovated $3.5 million storage facility for the department’s vehicles and equipment. The city already owns the old Bolton Block building on East Main Street, so the facility would sit perfectly positioned next to the city’s landfill, Iris Glen Environmental Center.

As Commissioner and former Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said Monday, the city has to protect its investments — in this case vehicles and equipment.

The solid waste budget is an enterprise fund, meaning it should generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient in covering expenses. Fees are the main source of income. Pindzola said the solid waste fund would need the additional revenue from the $2 increase by 2024 anyway based on projections on the fund’s cash balance.

If we read the budget right, the city spends far more on residential solid waste services — garbage, recycling and brush — than it receives from residential fees, so $11 may indeed be a bargain.

We always are reluctant to endorse fees. Every city household will pay that extra $24 per year regardless of family income.

Van Brocklin is right when he says the city should carefully evaluate just how much of an increase is necessary.

Government should never tap into your wallet without that kind of diligence.

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