Seeking Resident Input: Fee Increase

wp-1497397545171.UPDATE: Survey closed!

Note: There’s a survey for city residents at the bottom of this post. You will be asked for your name and address to verify city residency; however, that information will not be shared publicly.

We’ve been wrangling with the budget for about 6 months now, trying to balance the budget so that our expenses do not exceed our revenues.  City staff worked hard to present options to Council that would would balance the budget while also delivering on priorities Council discussed.

One of these priorities, as expressed by several council members, was a return to brush pickup service similar to what we had before last year’s switch to ACE.  In an ideal world, we would get both leaf and brush pickup; however, doing both was no more feasible this year than it was when we made the difficult decision last year.

Of the two, most of us agreed that the bundling of yard debris is the most burdensome on citizens.  Since September of last year, we heard regularly from residents across the city about the difficulty, frustration, and dissatisfaction resulting from the brush collection requirements.  In response to that, we created a budget that returns that service.  To do that, we will take out a bond (a loan) for equipment.  But you can’t put personnel costs on a bond.  And if you remember from last year, the problem wasn’t just a lack of equipment.  It’s the need for additional personnel to ensure we are able to complete critical work on the sewer.  We moved staff from brush and leaf collection to sewer service for that reason.  So we had to find money in the budget for two more personnel in Public Works in addition to the equipment costs.

We also couldn’t ignore other needs within the city, such as the need for a new City Planner and a new Assistant Fire Chief (read more about that here).

The majority of Council agreed that now is not the time to raise taxes–not without a long term plan for the city. But we are cognizant of the fact that we only have so many ways we can raise revenue. We can raise revenue with taxes or fees.  Since the service we are trying to restore is a Public Works service, staff recommended an increase in the Public Works fee. That recommended increase was $10, which would bring the fee from $24 to $34.  While I prefer no increase, I compromised to this $10 IF it would restore brush collection to the city.  However, we still didn’t have enough revenue to make the budget work. So staff looked for places to cut money.  One recommendation was to eliminate trash removal services to the 35% of city businesses who still receive them. These are primarily the downtown businesses.

Last night at the public hearing for the budget, we heard from a number of downtown business owners who expressed very valid concerns about this proposal, concerns that I and other council members share.  None of us want to see our small, local businesses hurt. We want to encourage growth in downtown.  But…we also want to restore the brush pickup service to our residents.

And it comes down to this: we can’t do both. At least not without raising additional revenue.

One possibility that has been floated is the idea of a larger than originally planned increase to the Public Works fee. If the Public Works fee were raised to $47-$50, we could potentially restore brush pickup and continue trash removal services to our downtown businesses.  That’s a pretty substantial increase from the $24 fee we currently have.  And I worry that there are residents, particularly in Ward 3, who cannot bear that cost.  I wasn’t happy with the $10 increase, but it was a compromise I accepted because I know how vital it is to return that brush service.

So now I ask you for your opinion: Would you support an increase in the Public Works fee that would make that fee somewhere in the ballpark of $50/year?

Please provide your feedback via this brief survey.

The intent of this survey is to solicit feedback from city residents to help inform my decisions.  Thus, you will be asked to provide your name and address to help ensure that responses are from city residents.  

Thank you!