Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Trash tax, recycling and the city landfill

I know - not exactly what you'd like to read about, but this issue and how it's been handled is typical of the warped thinking that goes on in government.

Let's start several years ago when the City of Toledo began telling residents that we were running out of space in our landfill. I don't recall all the research I did on the issue and the specifics of the amount of time left and the options, but I do recall concluding that the city was prudent to begin looking at options to extend the life of the landfill.

Recycling is an obvious option that would cut down on reusable waste in the facility and would provide a 'raw material' for various industries specializing in recycled products. So recycling seemed like a good idea.

The City of Toledo had tried to get out of its curbside recycling program when I was serving as a Commissioner (2003 through 2006) because it was costing so much money. However, the entire county would have incurred much higher costs if the largest municipality (Toledo) did not have a curb-side recycling program. (thank you state and federal governments for your mandates!) So Toledo administration at the time (Jack Ford was mayor) decided not to eliminate that program.

Shortly thereafter, financial conditions in the city began to deteriorate - rapidly. So the city decided that the two factors - a need for more tax dollars and the landfill space - presented a great opportunity to tax the public. Hence the trash tax.

Karen Shanahan sued the city over the tax saying that it wasn't a 'fee' as they claimed, but was a general revenue tax that should have gone to the voters for approval. That case is still in court. But her comments - and the comments of others at the time, including my own - have been proven correct: that if the city gets away with doing this, they will turn to this tax whenever they are short on money. And that's exactly what has happened.

Since the tax was first imposed, the amount has changed. Originally, you were supposed to pay one fee for 'garbage' and a lesser one if you recycled. The lesser amount was to encourage the recycling, thus helping the landfill space issue. But because curb-side recycling was not very wide-spread, the city expected a significant yearly sum from those who were going to pay the full amount.

The tax was supposed to be reduced on a regular basis until those who recycled paid nothing. Unfortunately for the tax payers, though, the city faced further financial woes and 'suspended' the planned reduction. As of the first of 2010, the tax was $8.50/month for those who don't recycle and $1/month for those who do.

As part of the budget passed at the end of March, the city council approved a plan from Mayor Mike Bell to raise the trash tax to $15/month, regardless of recycling.

Just recently, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwatt was in the news talking about the huge increase the city has seen in recycling. I believe this is a result of the new containers and the fact that residents no longer have to separate their recyclables. As part of the original pilot trash program, I know that being able to put all my recyclable products into a single container made it much easier to recycle, though I did so prior to the arrival of the test containers. So it comes as no surprise to me that having a single, large can in which to dump all those items means that more people are actually sorting their garbage.

This is great news for our landfill, but ... the city still needs money.

So what is the city going to do? Sell space in the landfill!!!!!!

Yep, you've got that right! An item on city council's agenda tonight is this:

O-138-10 Authorizing the Mayor and the Director of Public Service to enter into a five (5)-year Agreement to accept Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated and collected within Lucas County, Ohio from Stevens Disposal & Recycling Service (“Stevens”), at the Hoffman Road Landfill, to generate revenue of approximately $600,000 per year; authorizing the acceptance and deposit of revenues into the General Fund; and declaring an emergency.

Now, there may be very valid reasons for entering into this contract, especially for waste generated and collected within the county, but don't tell the voters they have to pay a trash tax because you're running out of landfill space if you've got space to sell!

And if the recycling is going so well as to give us more life in our landfill (the main concern that prompted all these actions), why would you want to then fill that space with trash from somewhere else? Doesn't that just put us back into the original position of running out of space sooner rather than later?

There is no logic to this decision. If we've been successful in extending the life of the landfill, we cannot then turn around and eliminate those additional years by selling the space that's been created.

Can you say stuck on stupid?

But this goes back to my opening sentences. It's warped logic that says the money generated from the sale in the short term is more important than the much more costly problem we'll face in the long term.

Toledoans have done their part to extend the life of the landfill- and paid dearly in additional taxes for the privilege of doing so - and city council is about to throw all that away for $600,000 a year.

They must see us only as a source of cash so they don't have to make the difficult decisions that are necessary to put this city back on a prudent fiscal footing.

Here's what it boils down to: if council has space in the landfill to sell, then they don't need us to worry about our individual contributions to that same landfill - and they don't need to tax us for it either. If they're going to get money from the sale of space in the landfill, then our trash tax should be reduced accordingly.

But don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen...government doesn't 'give back' money it's collected - it only knows how to keep increasing the amount of money it takes.


The Frizzy Hooker said...

Thank you for this entry. Very enlightening!
I enjoy reading your blog

Roman said...

This reminds me of salesmen who "spin" the various traits of the product they want you to buy.

They tell you what you want to hear. Most of the time, unintended consequences are not mentioned, or at times, not very well thought out.

Many times it is a matter of perspective.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

This reminds me of a question that I've asked many times in the past:

Why hasn't the city already purchased the necessary land for the next landfill?

The longer they wait to do so, the farther away from Toledo it will be, and that is NOT a good thing...

This will put us in the same boat with Los Angeles, where they will have to load their garbage on/in train cars to transport their trash to their next landfill. . .

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