Elkhart city council rejects trash fee
Posted: 08/20/2012 at 10:29 pm
By: Dan Spalding
The vote means the city will likely begin looking for a variety of cuts as it prepares for next month’s budget session and searches for ways to overcome a deficit of more than $1 million for 2013.
However, city leaders could still choose to continue using money from two funds to pay for trash service instead of moving forward with plans from the mayor to begin cutting the budget.
Council heard two hours of input from a crowd of more than 100 people who packed council chambers and stood in the hallway for nearly three hours.
Unlike input heard a week ago, opinions were more evenly split. Many of those supporting the plan identified themselves as city workers.
Monday’s action marks the second time in four years council has rejected establishing a fee for garbage service.
Prior to the final vote, council voted against an idea from the mayor to offer exemptions to low-income residents who can show evidence they could not afford the fee. A compromise proposal by councilman Dave Osborne for a $6 fee was also rejected.
Moore opened the debate by reminding council that a vote against the fee is essentially a vote to cut the budget.
Moore is reluctant to continue dipping into the Economic Development Income Tax and the Greater Elkhart Fund to pay for garbage service because depleting those funds could jeopardize the city’s bond rating.
One of the most outspoken comments Monday came from former city councilman David Ashe, a Republican who now serves on the Elkhart County Council. Ashe said the county has done a better job at cutting its budget compared to the city.
“All I’ve seen this city do is spend, spend, spend. I don’t want to give you another penny out of my wallet until you can show me you can say ‘no’ now and then to all this spending,” Ashe said.
Councilman David Henke said his opposition to the fee is based on the fact the city has a spending problem and not a revenue problem, as the mayor suggests.
Council members last week heard strong opposition to the trash fee proposal. Much of the opposition came from landlords, but many also said they worried low-income residents would not be able to afford the cost, which would total $136.20 per year.
Numerous city employees spoke in favor of the fee Monday and expressed concern that there is very little to cut that wouldn’t affect city services or the quality of life.
Moore has outlined numerous areas that might have to be cut, but has also said he would prefer slashing non-essential service areas. At the top of his list are funds that support Downtown Elkhart Inc., Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, SoMa and even the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.
Funds allotted to DEI are used primarily for the annual Elkhart Jazz Festival.
Moore said a backup budget plan would be prepared if council did not approve the trash fee.
Council’s budget sessions begin Sept. 18 and will be spread over six nights.
Moore has said the revised budget would not be released for several more weeks.