Free dumping won't end costs, but might cut them

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The prospect of free dumping at Cedar Ridge Landfill allowed Lewisburg leaders to consider the possibility of lowering garbage collection fees well before last week's hearing on landfill expansion, but details and uncertainties still remain.

"I thought Betty Biggers question was certainly in line," Mayor Bob Phillips said a couple of days after the City Council voted to let Waste Management pursue a state permit for expanded use of its property. "I'd love to see some help given to those having to pay."

Biggers spoke at the landfill hearing on Nov. 18. She asked if the state permitted Waste Management to expand Cedar Ridge Landfill and if the city obtained free dumping, then couldn't the monthly garage collection fee be eliminated or lowered?

Households pay $12.50 per month for garbage collection twice a week. Free dumping is seen as worth $130,000 annually to the city.

"Realize, that's only the tipping fee," Phillips said of Waste Management's plan to let Lewisburg garbage trucks unload at the landfill without charge. "We still have the cost of the trucks to pick up trash.

"All that will have to factor in on what we can do," the mayor said Thursday, noting that City Manager Eddie Fuller and City Treasurer Connie Edde have crunched some of the numbers.

The manager and treasurer were consulted on Friday.

"We've discovered that we have about 4,300 homes in Lewisburg, if not more," Fuller began, turning to the dollar amount the city budgeted last summer to be able to pay tipping fees at the landfill.

"Our solid waste budget is $871,100," he said. "The $130,000 is about 15 percent of the (solid waste) budget."

Fifteen percent of the monthly collection fee is $1.87, or $2.50 annually.

Meanwhile, the $12.50 monthly fee generates $645,000 annually, or 74 percent of the solid waste budget.

Therefore, if there's to be a reduction in the monthly fee, Fuller said, "It's not going to be anything major.

"Plus, if we get more into recycling," he said, "we may need more."

Furthermore, Edde points out that the savings from the free dumping "will be eaten up in the rest of the budget."

The treasurer and city manager then point out something that Phillips had noted.

If there's any savings to be found for household budgets, then it will become available no sooner than next summer because it's all contingent upon the state granting Waste Management's request for another permit to landfill at Cedar Ridge between two places where trash has been buried for years.

"More than likely, that will happen after I'm out of office," said Phillips, who's announced that he won't be running for re-election in May.

If there's to be a reduction in the monthly garbage collection fee, then the mayor sees that as something that should be examined with an eye toward making it available to residents who've qualified for a reduction in their property taxes.

State lawmakers have enacted programs to grant property tax relief for elderly or disabled homeowners and elderly or disabled veterans and their spouse.

Homeowners age 65 or older may apply for relief at the County Trustee's office and the applicable municipal tax office if the combined household income is $24,790 or less. The maximum market value on which relief is calculated is $25,000. Relief is available only for those who live in a dwelling they own. The state tax relief office phone number is (615) 747-8871.

Disabled veteran homeowners are eligible for property tax relief on their dwelling valued at up to $175,000. Blindness, total and permanent disabilities are among the disabilities qualifying the property taxpayer. The Veterans Administration may be consulted at 1-800-827-1000.

Approximately 200 Lewisburg homeowners qualify for these tax relief programs, according to County Trustee Marilyn Ervin. Those households are eligible for up to $278 in tax relief on the two property tax bills from the city and the county.

As Phillips looked to those programs as a prospective way to determine which household should pay less for garbage collection, another member of the Council had indicated he believes relief will be granted one way or another.

"They might do it," Councilman Hershel Davis said Thursday afternoon. "Nobody has said too much about it.

"The only way it looks like it could be done is to discontinue one of the collections," Davis said.

That's part of the plan for curbside recycling. That service has been available in the southwest quadrant of town since last spring when separate recycling bins were distributed. Participation has been approaching 50 percent. Members of a volunteer committee formed by the city have said they want to extend the program to the rest of the city and then eliminate one of the two days of household trash collections.

"I would think it would be possible" to reduce garbage collection fees," Davis said during a brief discussion after another city panel meeting Thursday. "That's a personal opinion."