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Residents rail against $3 garbage fee

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Citizens speaking at a public hearing on Salisbury’s proposed 2009-2010 budget made it clear Tuesday they wanted no part of a $3-a-month garbage collection fee.
Lenny Wolfe, a Milford Hills resident, said city officials already are “nickel and diming” residents to death.
“We’re charged for everything we have,” Wolfe said, noting how fees already are charged for things such as recycling, the county landfill, vehicles and dogs.
Clyde Overcash, a Bank Street resident, said council members should return from the desert island they’ve been living on and get their heads out of the sand.
Times are hard, he said, and not everyone has a job or inheritance money to rely on.
In May, City Manager David Treme recommended that the property tax rate for the city be reduced from 59 cents to 58 cents per $100 valuation.
For the owner of a $150,000 house, the annual city tax bill would decrease from $885 to $870.
But Treme also recommended charging residents $3 a month for garbage collection ó a first step toward making it a separate, self-sustaining operation, he said.
The 2009-2010 budget proposal calls for increasing water-sewer rates an average of 4.57 percent. The average monthly residential water-sewer bill would increase from $65.93 to 68.94 effective July 1.
In addition, the budget reduces funding for street resurfacing, cuts funding to special community groups by 7.5 percent, includes no new positions (except for those connected with the fiber-optic utility) and provides no merit pay increases.
Some $180,000 in savings from the city’s employee wellness program would give pay increases to employees in the bottom third of the pay scale in an attempt to bring those positions closer to a market average.
Wolfe said he would rather have a tax increase than pay a garbage collection fee. Wolfe said his own figures showed Salisbury’s having an average 6.035 percent annual increase in its water-sewer rates over the past decade.
It makes it tough for the 30 to 35 percent of Salisbury residents who depend on Social Security and cannot expect a cost-of-living increase during the coming year, Wolfe said.
While some cities give discounts to senior citizens, “each year we keep going up, up and up,” Wolfe said.
Jim Gandy told council that Wolfe, whom he had never seen before Tuesday’s hearing, hit on the exact points he wanted to make.
“There’s got to be a better way to overcome the budget deficits,” Gandy said of the proposed garbage fee. He suggested the need for city officials to tighten up the budget and make more adjustments.
When he came to live in the city in 2007, Gandy said, he had no problem paying city taxes for fire and police protection and garbage collection.
But the proposed collection fee is essentially a tax on top of a tax, he said.
“The only fair tax there is is the sales tax,” Gandy added.
Dee Dee Joyce had questions about the logistics of a garbage collection fee. How would it be billed to residents, for example. And how would the city’s appearance be affected when citizens decided not to pay the fee?
“We really need to look at it carefully,” Joyce said.
Jerry Shelby said he was sure the city officials could find a better way to balance their budget and he and others in the community were willing to help.
Deal Safrit said he usually did not have a problem with user-based fees “as long as they are equitable.”
But he found nothing equitable about the city’s current landfill charge, nor the proposed garbage collection fee.
Safrit held up a plastic bag and demonstrated how little garage he and his wife generate during a week. His point: Should they be charged the same as families generating many more pounds of trash?
“Let’s make it user equitable,” he said.
Council members did not comment Tuesday. Their first work session on the budget is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

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