Garbage customers face fee increases in budget plan

A handful of fee increases lies ahead for garbage customers, many of whom are still smarting from the city’s tumultuous June transition to weekly pickup.

The increases, part of City Admin­istrator Fred Russell’s latest balanced-budget proposal, include an already-approved fee for unoccupied properties and a proposed 4 percent fee increase and $3 monthly street-sweeping fee for all households.

For $155.25, about half the current annual garbage fee, the unoccupied property fee gives owners of vacant properties yard waste and bulk waste pickup, but no garbage or recycling collection.

It’s a way to encourage absentee owners, who often seek exemptions from the service, to care for their properties, said Deputy En­vi­ron­mental Services Director Lori Videtto.

Another change presented as part of the June garbage contract wasn’t included in 2013 tax bills but will be available next year, Videtto said. A 32-gallon trash can, a third the size of a regular unit, is available for small families at a 25 percent discount, about $233 a year.

“It’s a perfect size for a single person, especially if you are elderly or eat out a lot,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest proposed change is a switch to an all-fee-based system. Cur­rent­ly, garbage customers in the old city limits, about one-third of them, pay part of their bill through a millage assessment that’s tied to their property value. The rest is made up by a $115.50 fee.

The change means those who pay less than the going rate of $310.50 for those outside the old city limits – because of lower property values – will likely see the garbage portion of their bill go up.

“It’s more of a growing pain for those that are benefitting from the old urban area,” Videtto said. “You treat everybody the same.”

A proposed 4 percent increase for garbage, recycling, yard and bulk waste collection would bring the annual fee for garbage collection to $322.92 – $26.91 a month.

Street sweeping is part of the new garbage contract but needs a monthly $3 fee to keep it operating, Videtto said. The fee will ensure a sweeper will pass down each city street at least once a quarter, at an announced time, Videtto said. This will replace the existing system of sweeping streets on an as-needed basis because of limited resources.

“You have some areas that were being swept consistently and some areas that were never being touched,” such as Harris­burg, which enjoyed a sweeping Thursday for the first time most residents could remember.

Though Harrisburg residents spoke to the Augusta Com­mis­sion on Tuesday about the need to crack down on people who litter, the sweeping was already scheduled, Videtto said, and removed thousands of pounds of dirt and debris.

The commission has considered a millage increase that could cost the owner of a $100,000 home as much as $52 more a year in city property taxes. The city’s Engi­neer­ing Department has spent millions developing a stormwater fee program expected to cost homeowners at least that much more based on their square footage of non-draining surface, such as roofs and driveways.

The garbage and property tax increases, the shift to a fee-based system and the storm fee are not yet approved.

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