We haven’t made it to our first budget workshop yet, but there is already talk about raising taxes . Keep in mind that as residents of Simpsonville, we don’t just pay city taxes. We pay county and state taxes. And it looks highly likely that the state will pass the gas tax bill this year. That bill increases the tax on the gas you put in your car 2 cents per gallon every year through 2022 for a total increase of 12 cents per gallon. That means, next year, you’ll pay 2 cents more per gallon at the pump. Let’s say you drive an average mid-sized car with a 17 gallon tank. And let’s say you fill up once per week. Next year, you would be paying $17.68 more than this year (Drive an SUV? That’s usually at least a 20-gallon tank or $20.80). Meanwhile, Greenville County Council voted to add $24.95 in fees to our yearly bills: a $14.95 telecommunications fee and a $10 road maintenance fee. Assuming you fill up a mid-sized car once a week, you will be paying an estimated $42.63 more next year. And that’s before we hit you with any new city taxes or fees. I have heard from people in our community who live on a fixed income, who say, “I cannot afford any more a year—not even $10, not even $20.” Ward 3 is filled with people on fixed incomes. Westwood, my neighborhood, has many people on fixed incomes. I’ve heard from single mothers who can afford no more. I’ve heard from elderly neighbors who can afford no more. And the state and county are already going to hit them with more.
I can’t in good conscience add to that financial burden.
Part of the reason people are talking city tax increases is that last year we made the difficult decision to privatize sanitation services. This included garbage, recycling, and yard waste collection. Since the new service went into effect on September 1st, we’ve heard from citizens who are displeased particularly with the yard waste removal. Hearing and responding to these concerns, Council charged the new City Administrator with looking into alternatives that would “bring back the leaf vac truck” and not require bundling of brush. At Tuesday night’s meeting, we were presented with his findings and a recommendation.
In short, staff explained that the cost is equal to around $500,000/year regardless of which option we choose. To be clear, that’s $500,000 we still do not have. And we also heard last night that we’re short an additional $450,000 right now (this will hopefully change), which puts us close to the $900,000 mark. This is only where we are in Public Works (for example, last night we also heard from Interim Chief Hanshaw about the need to increase pay for SPD officers to improve recruitment and retention). And we also know we have to give up the money for an additional 3% increase in employer contributions to employee retirement plans—state mandated. This is what we know now—before we’ve even heard from the other departments.
Note: first budget workshop is April 6th, and it’s a public meeting, so you can come and listen in if you’re interested!
Let me be clear: if residents are not happy with their services, it is the responsibility of the City of Simpsonville to address their concerns. We must take responsibility for that. It has become clear that the loose leaf collection and bundled debris are creating an undue burden on our citizens. We need to try to find a way to fix that. But raising is not the answer. Because that, too, is a burden. We must look at other options. Those options are what I hope to see at the next budget meeting.