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Trash talk: Some irked over garbage fee

Crandell, Scrima say it's necessary to offset state reductions

Oct. 18, 2011

Challenging decisions had to be made when creating the 2012 city budget.

These decisions were put on the shoulders of Waukesha's interim City Administrator Steve Crandell and his team inside city hall.

And they recently revealed a budget that has a zero percent increase in the tax levy, decreases funds by 2.43 percent and in the operating budget by 1.19 percent when compared to last year, has $3.6 million less in state aid and includes a new $136 garbage fee.

So after a couple weeks to digest the budget, what has the general reaction been to it around the city?

"I'm not happy with the garbage collection fee," said Alderman Duane Paulson, who represents District 15. "My concern is having charges for garbage and then saying it's a zero percent increase.

"I don't think it's a representation of what it is, because it's an increase."

Andy Reiland, of District 13, added: "We've got some pretty big challenges receiving fewer funds from the state, but that being said, I think we owe it to the tax payers to put together a budget where they don't see any increases. As far as the fee, I'm against adding it unless there is an equal reduction on their tax base.

"It will be a huge challenge."

Fee might be eliminated

Nonetheless, after some of the feedback he's received, Reiland said he believes the fee might never happen.

"It just didn't sit right with a lot of people," said Reiland, who also serves on the Finance Committee, which is reviewing the budget. "Based on conversations I've had, I believe the fee will go away.

"It's a hot-button issue and the last thing people want is to pay more taxes."

However, with the garbage fee, which also includes recycling services for residential and business property owners, in place the city will not have to cut from other services that the state's $3.6 million in reductions would have sliced into.

Crandell made this clear in his budget memo and the fact that sometimes there has to be a give and take in these situations.

"To maintain a zero increase in the overall tax levy it would have been necessary to cut $3.6 million from the operating budget," Crandell said. "This would have meant major reductions in city services. In order to avoid this situation, the removal of $2.7 million in garbage, recycling and large item disposal from the tax levy and placement of them as a separate fee to those who receive this service was necessary."

Pros and cons

Reiland said city officials need to take another look at what services could be trimmed.

"That's the biggest challenge, to outweigh the services that we definitely don't want to suffer without versus those that we could," Reiland said. "We'll have to go line by line and see where we can cut."

Crandell, who is filling the city administrator position until a replacement is found for Lori Luther, who left in August to become county administrator for Peoria County, Ill., said nearby communities Oconomowoc, Menomonee Falls and Pewaukee have had a garbage fee for many years. He also added Eau Claire and New Berlin do not provide any trash service.

"I don't care how many communities do it," Paulson said. "It's a bad idea. The bottom line is, people are going to write a check and that increase concerns me."

The savings in the city budget enabled Mayor Jeff Scrima to save many city services and add others that include: purchasing a new ambulance, restoring a police officer position, reorganizing the parks and recreation staff for cost savings, restoring a housing inspector position and adding two hot boxes for better pothole repair and smoother roads.

While those areas are beneficial, Paulson said most citizens will focus on one thing: the garbage fee.

"That's important because it separates the budget from a zero percent increase to an actual increase," Paulson said.

Counting our trash?

Scrima reiterated Crandell's statements and then posed a question for Waukesha citizens.

"Without doing this, we will have to cut $2.7 million in significant services or raise taxes on everyone," Scrima said. "So do we want fairness, cuts or a tax increase?"

However, Scrima added that the garbage fee could still change.

"This sets us up in years to come to consider a 'only charged what you throw' program which would provide further equity to our homeowners, whereby those that produce less trash and recycle more would pay less," Scrima said. "Separating the garbage fee promotes fairness and accountability - allowing citizens to only pay for what they use to see more clearly where their money is going."

Reiland said that this is a good idea and said other communities do it, but would like more details on the subject.

In the meantime, he just wants to put the garbage fee idea on hold and focus on balancing the budget.

"There are a lot of issues we have to look at with it," Reiland said. "But I would like it if we could address it down the road, because there's more to it than simply have the fee. I know there were a lot of people concerned because once the fee's in place it can be increased.

"Those are all things that sent up red flags. I say, let's diffuse this and really focus on trying to get a budget as balanced as possible without raising taxes."

Changes could happen

Still, the budget is far from finalized.

The city's many committees and commissions are currently reviewing it at their meetings and the public can have a voice as well by communicating with their respective aldermen for the rest of the month.

Paulson said the people he talked with are not in favor of the new garbage fee and said it's imperative to hear more from the citizens of Waukesha.

"There are some supporters of it on the (common) council, but nobody I've talked to in the community support it," Paulson said. "I haven't talked to hundreds of people but the ones I have didn't like it."

The Finance Committee has been reviewing the budget at twice weekly meetings on Tuesday and Thursday since it was released. Every Finance Committee meeting - held in the City Hall Common Council Chambers - is open to the public. The next one is at 6:30 p.m. tonight where the committee will come to a consensus on the fee. The meeting will be televised on TV 25.

There will also be two more common council meetings - one on Nov. 1 and the other on Nov. 8 - before the final budget will be adopted and put in place at the city's common council meeting on Nov. 15.

While he knows adjustments can be made, Reiland said this week's meetings were important to determining the budget.

"We got a month left and it's early in the process, but [this] week is going to be a key week," he said.

For a complete look at the 2012 budget, go to the city's website at www.ci.waukesha.wi.us.

FYI

Who: City of Waukesha Common Council

What: Finance Committee will come to a consensus on the garbage fee in the 2012 budget

When: 6:30 p.m. tonight

Where: City Hall Common Council Chambers

What's More: It will be televised on Channel 25

See the 2012 budget: www.ci.waukesha.wi.us

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