Council won’t ‘unravel’ the budget

Published 11:41 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

An attempt by one City Council representative to change a mandatory $18.50 trash fee proposed in the budget failed on Wednesday because his colleagues, they said, did not want to change the budget.

Councilman Michael Duman wanted city management to do research on a recycling program that would provide incentives for people to recycle, rather than forcing it upon every household.

“I think it’s a lot on the citizens right now to do a mill rate (real estate tax increase) and start a recycling fee,” Duman said.

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The new fee would be collected from every household on tax bills and deposited in a new enterprise fund, which would be used to cover the costs of regular trash and bulk refuse pickup, curbside recycling and continuing maintenance obligations at the Hosier Road landfill.

Most importantly, city staff said Wednesday, it would prepare the city for the eventual reality of having to pay for trash disposal and comply with a state mandate to recycle 25 percent of the city’s waste.

The Southeastern Public Service Authority isn’t scheduled to shut down until 2018. But until that time, anything can happen, Council members said. The authority already is talking about shutting down or selling the landfill, which would end the city’s free disposal perk. And several members recalled when SPSA nearly ran out of money two years ago.

“You can either plan now, or you can wait,” said Anne Seward, director of Budget and Strategic Planning.

“I’ve been told directly, the ultimate goal is to get Suffolk to pay a tipping fee,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.

Furthermore, the state mandates that every locality recycle 25 percent of its waste. Right now, the city is at only about 4 percent, but passes muster because of its membership in the authority.

When the authority ends, the mandate will take effect immediately and the city will be fined if it is not in compliance, Cuffee-Glenn said.

That’s why, Seward said, the culture shift must begin now to change the way Suffolk residents think about recycling.

Currently, curbside recycling is provided only to Suffolk residents who sign up through an outside company, TFC Recycling, and pay a $12 monthly fee. Trash pickup and bulk refuse currently are paid for through the general fund.

Duman wanted to get more information on what a different proposal might look like, perhaps providing an incentive to recycle through TFC by making the monthly cost to citizens lower and paying the difference from the enterprise fund. He made a motion to have city management crunch the numbers, and Councilman Leroy Bennett seconded it.

Councilman Robert Barclay said he believes the responsible option is to provide citywide recycling but also voted for the motion, as he said, “as a courtesy to my fellow council member.”

The other five members opposed it in a vote, however. Several expressed an unwillingness to make any changes to the budget.

“Once we start unraveling the budget, everything comes loose,” Councilman Curtis Milteer said. “Let’s stick to the guns and be a man, or a woman.”

Vice Mayor Charles Brown agreed.

“One of the worst things you can do is wait until the 11th hour and come up with a lot of changes to unravel the budget,” he said, noting council members could have made recommendations months ago. “I am not prepared to allow this budget to become unraveled.”

And Councilman Jeffrey Gardy also said he would “hate to unravel” the budget plan.

“Budgets can always be amended,” he said. “The $18.50 has given me many a sleepless night, but I haven’t come up with a better idea.”