Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Raise the "Trash Tax"?


Last night by a 5 - 2 vote the West Lafayette City Council voted to raise the city's "trash tax". I am opposed to Ordinance 7 – 13.

The operative paragraph in this ordinance is #67-20; the 70% increase in the city trash fee.

1) Let’s be clear. This is a tax increase. Republican idealogues have made it impossible to raise revenue the old fashioned way, by raising property or income taxes.  Cities are left with few options for raising revenue. Raising fees is one of them.

Fee increases are essentially a regressive tax. They negatively impact the lower and middle classes. By January 1, 2014 your "taxes" will increase by $204. $200 a year is not all that much if you make $100,000 and may reasonable expect a pay increase. If you make $50,000 or $25,000 it is something else.

The diocese hasn’t raised my salary in two years. Purdue staff will not have a pay raise for the next two years. Yet here we have this increase. Perhaps if you have an attached, heated garage, for your garbage cans you don’t see what all the fuss is about. But my constituents have small urban lots, they park on the street, walk to work, own carports. Some of them know that you don’t book the “care-a-van” for the end of the month because they may have run out of money at Jenks Rest by then and could cancel your ride.

The Westside myth is that everybody has money. That’s not true.

2) This must be embarrasing, I’m sure for my Republican friends on city council. This is their third “tax” increase of the season. We have increased the cumulative capital tax, passed a stormwater tax, and now are considering this trash tax.

Should this pass on second reading, it gives me a great lead for the next round of campaign literature. “Bunder voted against the 70% increase in your trash tax.”

3) This must be embarrasing for a city administration that only a short while ago asserted that there was no reason to raise trash rates at all.  We were told that, in fact, trash collection and sewage processing were the same enterprise. Trash cans and toilet bowls were the same. . . . at least for purposes of the budget. The losses from trash cans, you see, can be made up from toilet bowls. The waster water surpluses would cover those costs.

But now it is after the election. Those surpluses are gone. John Polles was right. This is not about gasoline for garbage trucks, but general city revenue.

4) This ordinance is an embarrasment because it has surprisingly little to do with environmental issues. No one from the environmental commission was involved in its creation. That isn’t surprising. The operative paragraph is #67-20. One of my strongest memories from our last discussion of the trash ordinance was of having Councilor Hoggatt sitting to my right with a stack of research -  he loved research – this high. John asked the Mayor if he had read any of that stuff and the Mayor said “no”. Okay then . . .

West Lafayette does “okay” with trash and recycling. Gene Hanus tracks those numbers for Go Greener.

In 2012 the percentage of recycling (without the move-out dumpsters) was 26%. Count yard waste, you get to 42%. That’s the figure the Mayor used in his state of the city address to give us a “gold star”.  It is an interesting statistical choice. The percentage of recycling (with the move-out dumpsters) was 25%. Count yard waste, you get 40%. With the new recycling toters, Gene reports we are in the low 30% range. Given the resources available here in environmental science at Purdue, we should do better.

Nowhere in this revision is apartment recycling addressed. Our thanks to the J.C.Hart Co. for showing us how it might be done. Nowhere do we address the unwitting subsidy to the rental corporations my constituents bear each spring when we collect bulk refuse and construction materials for free from these corporations. 

Last night at city council we spent an hour amending the ordinance with great particularity, discussing such things as whether to "wash and rinse" or "rinse and wash" our recycling. The careful focus on minutiae apparently excuses us from examining how much we are paying to underachieve on recycling.

I am opposed to ordinance 7-13.

1 comment:

James Britton said...

Well said, Peter.

I'm appalled that they did not consult the Go Greener Commission (for the benefit of your audience, I'm a commissioner of Go Greener, as you know.)

We chose to sacrifice having multiple cars, cable tv, eating out, etc. so that we could live in West Lafayette for the wonderful schools. Now we are once again faced with a fee/tax increase on top of the ridiculously high, privatized water rates and newly-minted storm water runoff fee, and we are now faced with more sacrifices.

There are ZERO provisions in the new trash ordinance to mitigate landfill waste (a huge cost to the city to dump) and increase recycling (a small, but positive income stream for the city). There are ZERO provisions in the new storm water runoff fee to encourage mitigation of combined sewage overflow by promoting the installation and use of rain barrels, rain gardens, and bioswales. We have been informed that West Lafayette Wastewater is merely "looking into it" when asking them about provisioning a fee reduction residents who mitigate storm water runoff.

Apparently the purpose of this trash ordinance as stated in Section 67.01 (a) "is to protect and promote the public health, water quality (what?), safety, and welfare of the inhabitants of the City of West Lafayette by regulating the collection of residential waste and recyclables in a manner that will promote waste reduction." Emphasis added

Instead, this uninspired ordinance is merely a way to raise a fee by completely disposing of the previous one. What incentive to residents have to increase their recycling? Who knows, this could quite possibly have a negative impact on recycling rates since some may be so pissed off at the extra fee that might feel too bothered to open their wallets and take extra time to sort recyclables from waste. As a fellow Go Greener commissioner commented: this is awfully suspicious getting a fee increase on the tail of receiving the fancy new recycling toters.

I know you spent several years trying to work out a pay as you throw (PAYT) plan to encourage recycling rates while making waste producers pay their fair share. You even worked diligently with the mayor's office on compromises, finally passing an ordinance, only to have it vetoed by Mayor Dennis. Perhaps your mistake was that you passed the vetoed ordinance too close to an election year. Hindsight is 20/20.

Republicans raising taxes disguised as fees when Purdue has frozen pay for two years, "promoting recycling" with no financial incentives, the mayor vetoing a carefully planned PAYT plan, the mayor gushing about the New Chauncey Neighborhood plan that takes away 20% of the historically significant homes: perhaps it's time for a new administration.

I believe in taxes and fees when they make sense. But it looks like we'll have to forgo the expense of getting our son a dog this year and the expensive trash will mix with recyclables and continue to pile up in the neighborhood.