Friday, March 05, 2010

Proposed city trash fee raises concerns in Philly

In Los Angeles, trash pickup costs $436 a year.

In Lower Merion, the annual price starts at $254 for a single container.

And in many cities, including Philadelphia, it's free, or, more accurately, included in what residents pay in taxes.

That could change July 1 if Mayor Nutter can persuade City Council to impose a $300 yearly garbage fee to help close a $150 million budget gap and allow the city to clean up more vacant lots and resume collection of leaves and large objects, two services that were dropped in previous budget cuts.

But will the idea fly in "Filthadelphia," where some residents can't even be bothered to toss their trash in a bag, let alone ponder paying for pickup?

The answer will become clearer as Council holds hearings on the proposed fee, which would be included in property-tax bills. Several members said they would wait for those hearings before deciding on the fee, but many expressed sympathy for the mayor's limited choices.

"If it's not done, what gets cut?" Councilman James Kenney asked. "People have to be part of this process. If you're against that idea, then you should have another idea that replaces it."

Some leaders worry that the tax would hit poor people too hard.

"So a family that lives in a $15,000 house in North Philadelphia will pay $300 and a family that lives in a $5 million house in Chestnut Hill will pay $300. How's that fair?" asked former Mayor John F. Street, who attended Nutter's budget address to Council yesterday.

Street acknowledged that the budget crisis left Nutter with few options but suggested that a levy based on property values might work better. Nutter, however, ruled that out because of widespread problems with getting accurate property valuations in the city. He also decided against raising the wage, business, sales, or real estate transfer taxes because they are already high and because of the recession.

Nutter, in an interview, said he "fully recognized" concerns that low-income property owners would be hurt worse by the trash fee than those in wealthier sections of town. He said the administration had tried to soften the blow by proposing a $100 discount for qualifying low-income property owners, and he suggested he was open to adjusting the program in ways that could lessen the burden on the poor.

"This is just the start of a process. We had to start somewhere. We've demonstrated a flexibility about these kinds of things," Nutter said of his willingness to negotiate with Council on budget issues.

Many low-income residents live in rental properties, which could mitigate the effect on them, administration officials said. The Philadelphia Housing Authority already pays the city to pick up trash at its properties, so the fee would not affect its tenants.

Nutter also hopes many residents would recoup some of the money through RecycleBank, a program that rewards recycling with coupons for local businesses. He said residents should be able to earn at least $100 and up to $400 through the program.

(Read more on this trash challenge at:


  1. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Once these initial contracts run their first cycle in about a year and a half, and they are rebid, you will see pricing rise quickly.

    Partly because the value of recycled material is at a very low price, and haulers are having to pay for disposal of some recycled materials.

    And, because the volumes have fallen at landfills, landfills will be raising prices because of lost volumes.

    Either way, waste/recycle prices are headed up.

  2. Anonymous7:49 AM

    St. Louis County has the ability to collect the fees for waste hauling. They do it for real and personal property taxes. They do it for MSD and Fire and Library Districts. They do it for lighting and special districts. They can do this for the Trash Districts as well.
    If they can mandate Waste/Recycle services, and bid them out, and administer the program, they should be mandated to collect the fees and pay the contractors.
    This would insure lower costs and improved services for all.
    If they can't do that, they should stay out of others peoples business.
    Either step up and perform, or sit down and stay away.
    Attention St. Louis County, deliver what your promise.