Say no to bulk trash fees

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Suffolk City Council is set to approve a 2009-2010 budget tonight totaling $450 million. The spending plan holds most real estate taxes level — there would be an increase for those in the special Route 17 tax district — but it calls for new and increased fees for various city services.

Chief among those new fees would be a requirement that residents pay to dispose of their bulk trash. Under the proposed budget, disposing curbside of anything that won’t fit in a city-issued trash can will cost residents $20 for up to eight cubic yards of material and $50 for nine to 16 cubic yards of material.

Members of the City Council, including Mayor Linda T. Johnson, have justified the new fee by noting that people in other Hampton Roads cities pay for their garbage removal. But that claim is somewhat disingenuous.

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A search of Internet sites for Suffolk’s sister cities in Hampton Roads shows that none charges for bulk refuse disposal, except for Norfolk, which only charges to pick up large amounts. And while those cities do require that residents pay a monthly fee for trash pickup, it is important to note that each of those cities pays tipping fees to the Southeastern Public Service Authority to place their trash in the regional landfill. In exchange for hosting that landfill, Suffolk pays nothing for trash disposal except the cost of running a fleet of trash trucks.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said recently that charging the new bulk trash fee would keep the city from cutting more than a dozen jobs. That’s a telling line of reasoning, especially in these times of widespread job cuts in the private sector.

For some reason, city officials seem to believe that the jobs paid for and provided by taxpayers are sacrosanct. While nobody wants to see someone else lose his job, it seems a bit presumptuous of Suffolk officials to ask citizens — many of whom have either lost their own jobs or watched their paychecks shrink — to ante up increasing amounts of money they cannot spare to protect taxpayer-funded employees from the market forces that are at work throughout the rest of the nation.

Mayor Johnson said recently that Suffolk should give this new fee a chance, with the understanding that it could be rescinded at a later date. It’s folly, however, to believe that City Council would ever have an attack of conscience strong enough to convince members to withdraw this or any other fee. That’s not how government works, even in the best of situations.

It would be far easier to trim the positions today — and reinstate them once the economy and tax collections recover — than to levy the new fees now and face losing revenue later by rescinding them.