Fee for garbage pickup dumped

Mayor Dayhoff drops proposal to initiate residential `trash tax'

`Wasn't ready for primetime'

City spending plan set to be presented tomorrow

April 25, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

After a lot of debate and a closer look at Westminster's proposed $28.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, city officials have decided against imposing an annual fee for residential trash collection.

Instead, the city's spending plan - expected to be introduced at tomorrow's Common Council meeting - has been recalculated to make up about $300,000 in additional revenue that the "trash tax" would have generated.

The city's finance department has made more cuts, dipped into the city's reserves for equipment and vehicles, and found previously uncollected sources of money.

"What I decided was because we are a very conservative government that we could not go forward with that idea at this point in time," Mayor Kevin Dayhoff said Friday.

"We took another look at the budget, and it wasn't necessary to implement that fee because we could make some changes," he said. "The changes were very difficult, but the other thing was [the trash fee] wasn't ready for primetime yet."

Dayhoff proposed last week that the city borrow $1.5 million and collect $65 a year from households for trash pickup to balance the budget for fiscal year 2005, which begins July 1.

The mayor noted that revenues have remained flat in recent years in contrast to increases in the cost of services, including $97,000 more for trash collection. Imposing a fee for residential trash pickup, Dayhoff had said, would be a fair and equitable way to create additional revenue.

But several council members, including Council President Damian L. Halstad and Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci, had opposed the trash fee, arguing that it amounted to another tax and that residents believe property taxes cover such services.

"There was no support for it in the community or on the council, so I think it was appropriate that it was taken off the table," Halstad said.

The proposed budget still includes a $1.5 million loan to pay for mostly one-time expenses, including a project to repave the city's worst streets and upgrade the police and finance departments' computer systems.

To fill the estimated $300,000 deficit caused by eliminating the trash fee, city officials found $62,000 in additional impact fees that were recently collected and not available during the initial budget preparation, said City Finance Director Joseph D. Urban.

City officials also took $135,000 out of a reserve fund for equipment and vehicles to pay for other items. Another $15,000 was taken from the Police Department's reserve account to pay for small-equipment purchases for next year.

An additional $75,000 in cuts were made on capital projects, including slashing $5,000 for new street signs and painting; $10,000 for tree pruning; $34,000 for the downtown facade program; and $10,000 for other items. A $7,500 project for tree planting also was eliminated.

"We looked at the [budget] and said, `Things are that desperate,'" Urban said. "Trees can't look that pretty next year. What's more important? That's not essential service. That's something we have to do without. ... We're going to try to manage our cost as much as we can."

Although city officials were able to avoid imposing the trash fee this year, they acknowledged that continuing fiscal challenges may force them to consider other ways to generate additional revenue, including the possibility of raising the property tax.

"A property tax increase is absolutely, absolutely the last resort," Dayhoff said. "That's where we are. We are up against the brick wall."

Added Councilman Thomas K. Ferguson, "We were able to cover that gap through things like pulling more funds from the equipment reserves. Eventually the chickens come home to roost. We have to be candid with the taxpayers that the probability of a property tax increase is growing."

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