Council approves budget, new garbage fee

Jun. 17, 2013 @ 09:11 PM

City Council members Monday approved a fiscal 2013-14 budget that, while holding the line on the city’s share of local property taxes, levies a new $1.80-a-month garbage-collection fee on homeowers.

The budget itself passed on a 6-0 vote, but the new fee only gained 4-2 support. Councilman Steve Schewel and Councilwoman Diane Catotti dissented on whether to create the fee.

“I continue to feel this is regressive and we’d be better off proceeding in another way,” namely by ditching the fee and raising the city property tax rate instead, Schewel said.

The vote came nearly two weeks after the council settled on the broad terms of its annual budget compromise. It followed along lines suggested by Mayor Bill Bell.

He was unwilling to raise the property tax rate or raise the price for a daily bus pass on the Durham Area Transit Authority. To balance the budget, he suggested going with a higher garbage fee than the $1.50-a-month levy City Manager Tom Bonfield had recommended.

The new fee will generate about $1.4 million.

The opposition from Schewel and Catotti was in line with complaints about the fee also voiced by one of Durham’s big-three political groups, the People’s Alliance.

Its leaders issued a statement before Monday’s council meeting that argued residents would have been better off had the council raised the property tax rate by a bit more than six-tenths of a cent.

“Instead of $21.60 a year in garbage fees, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would have paid $6.30,” the PA statement said. “The owner of a $200,000 home would have paid $12.60. The owner of a $300,000 home would have paid $18.90.”

“The property tax is more progressive in the economic sense than a flat fee,” it continued. “It tracks property wealth. The garbage fee, like all broadly applied flat fees, is regressive. It will take a larger percentage of income from a Durham resident the lower that person’s income is.”

Bell by contrast had argued officials should institute the fee so Durham’s tax rate of 56.75 cents per $100 of assessed value wouldn’t appear out of line with surrounding communities’.

Bonfield argued that a garbage fee was also a fairer way of paying for new trucks the Solid Waste Management Department needs, given that the trucks will serve mostly neighborhoods of single-family homes. Most apartment complexes and businesses will be exempt.

People’s Alliance leaders rejected that reasoning, saying the levy will hit among others “hard-pressed people … that rent houses or rent apartments in buildings of four units or fewer.”