Trash bag system requires rate increase, city manager says

Wednesday , September 13, 2017 - 4:02 PM

Kyle LaHucik

City staff is suggesting that funding for black trash bags and blue recycling bags would be significantly reduced if a 4 percent residential rate increase for trash and recycling collection is rejected by the Columbia City Council for the fiscal year 2018.

The increase for the Solid Waste Utility, which is included in City Manager Mike Matthes’s proposed budget, would generate an estimated $353,904. Some council members, however, are pushing back on the need to increase city utility fees.

Patricia Hayles, spokeswoman for the city Utilities Department, said that if the residential rate increase doesn’t pass, residents would get one voucher per year for black trash bags and two vouchers per year for blue recycling bags. In total, residents would receive 25 trash bags and 36 recycling bags.

The reduction in funding, if it were to happen, would be 50 percent for black bags and 33 percent for recycling bags. In total, it would save the city $375,000, according to city budget documents.

Residents currently receive vouchers twice a year. With the system in place now, residents have to pay for any additional trash bags on their own, but they can request additional vouchers for recycling bags, Hayles said.

If the council fails to approve the rate increase, Hayles said residents could buy their own black trash bags if they run out of city bags.

Matthes said at the Sept. 5 City Council meeting that the rate increase would amount to 62 cents a month per household.

“Frankly, we need to increase the cost to maintain the bag system,” Matthes said. “So... I have to point out, there is a cheaper way to do solid waste, but if we choose not to, this is the cost of not doing it more efficiently.”

Matthes’ comment appeared to be a reference to the city’s effort in 2016 to switch to a roll cart system of trash collection. That was a hot topic that resulted in an initiative petition to block the council from going with roll carts to replace the bag system, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The petition blocked the council from “moving forward in any way on roll carts for at least the next six months.”

In 2012, the Solid Waste Advocacy Group was the primary group that organized in opposition to carts. Before the March 2016 vote, the Committee for Roll Cart Choice formed in favor of roll carts.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said in an email that “the Council will no doubt revisit the black trash bag/roll cart controversy.”

Chuck and Carol Headley, two leading members of the Solid Waste Advocacy Group, said they favor keeping the trash system the way it is. Though the group doesn’t officially meet anymore, Carol Headley said members are “so well connected digitally that we can meet very quickly.”

They haven’t changed their stance on roll carts, Carol Headley said, but they can see why other residents would favor them.

In a 2016 City of Columbia survey conducted by the ETC Institute, of Olathe, Kansas, 80 percent of respondents “who had an opinion” said they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the city’s solid waste services.

Each month, the Headleys pay $15.42 for trash and recycling services, which includes the vouchers they receive to bring to local stores to pick up their trash and recycling bags. The vouchers that they don’t use, Carol Headley said, they give to a local charity.

“If you don’t need (the vouchers), you don’t have to redeem them,” Carol Headley said.

Chuck Headley said they’d rather buy more bags on their own than switch to roll carts if the council rejects the rate increase. A final vote on the fiscal 2018 budget is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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