Mayor: Trash fee hike needed

The fees must go up at least $3.50 a month the next five years to cover costs, she says.

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008

TAMPA - Solid waste fees will need to increase by at least $3.50 a month over the next five years to cover the rising cost of garbage collection, Mayor Pam Iorio told City Council members Wednesday.

The fee hikes would likely begin in 2010 to cover increased personnel, fuel and other operating expenses.

Iorio also wants to add $1.80 a month to solid waste fees starting this year to offset reductions in property tax revenues.

The increase would help pay for the Clean City division, which handles such duties as cleaning up medians and removing graffiti. Currently, property taxes pay part of the cost of the division, which employs about 70 people.

"We're trying to save jobs. We care about our employees," Iorio said.

The council agreed to discuss increasing fees this year in more detail at its regular meeting today, but several members told Iorio they like the proposal.

"Anything I can do to help people keep their jobs, I'm willing to do," said council chairwoman Gwen Miller.

"It's a very creative solution," said council member Linda Saul-Sena. "The relationship between Clean City and Solid Waste is an obvious one."

Council member Mary Mulhern was less enthusiastic.

"To say council needs to approve this or we're going to lay people off isn't right," she said.

Mulhern has advocated exploring the cost savings of switching to once-a-week garbage collection rather than twice-weekly pickup.

Preliminary figures show the city needs to cut about $16.8-million from next year's budget to make up for reduced revenue.

In June, 123 full-time city employees lost their jobs after property tax reform mandated by the Legislature forced Iorio to cut $20-million from the budget.

In November, Iorio unveiled a plan to save $3.4-million next year by making technological improvements and laying off about 100 employees, mostly in janitorial and security, and contracting their work to private companies.

Council members generally have not embraced the idea of privatizing services and laying more people off.

And when Iorio last month first floated the idea of increasing solid waste fees, council member John Dingfelder suggested instead reducing the frequency of garbage collection to once a week.

That measure would save about $1.02 a month on the average customer's solid waste bill, according to Steve Daignault, administrator of public works and utilities. But Iorio doesn't want to go in that direction.

Instead, she wants to switch to a system that will charge according to the amount of garbage people produce once the city has been converted to a fully automated collection system in 2010.

Iorio also told the council Wednesday the wastewater department is operating with a shortfall. She said she won't consider a wastewater fee increase until next year.

Last year, the council approved a five-year, incremental water rate increase that by 2012 will increase the average residential customer's water bill by about $11 a month.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.