City of Elkhart proposes garbage collection fees — again

The city of Elkhart is looking at establishing collection fee for residential garbage collection.
Posted on July 17, 2012 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 17, 2012 at 3:27 p.m.

ELKHART — City residents will have to pay a monthly fee for garbage collection beginning in 2013 if plans by the city are approved by City Council.

At the same time, the city is also seeking to discontinue garbage pick-up in mobile home parks, a move that could force owners of the parks to hire private collection services.

Eliminating mobile home parks, which the city estimates involves about 2,000 customers, would save the city about $143,000 per year, according to Laura Kolo, the utility service manager for the city who spoke about the plan Tuesday at the board of works meeting.

Mayor Dick Moore’s administration tried to pass a garbage fee ordinance in 2008, but council voted down the proposal, 5-4.

Under the current plan, residential customers would pay $11.35 per month.

On Tuesday, the board of public works approved a resolution with a 3-1 vote to send the proposal to city council for consideration.

Council is expected to take up the issue at its meeting Aug. 6, but may very well send it to the finance committee for a recommendation. Ultimately, though, council will have the final vote.

The 2008 vote came during the initial stages of the national recession that pushed local unemployment toward 20 percent, a fact Arvis Dawson, assistant to the mayor, suggested was probably a factor in some council member’s decision not to support it.

Four years later, unemployment has been sliced in half, but municipalities are now under more budgetary constraints because of a state law that limits the ability of local units of government from raising taxes. Many cities and towns are seeing the amount of money that can collect shrink in recent years.

For Elkhart, the city has seen a reduction of nearly $10 million in property tax revenues in recent years.

“It’s just continued to grow to the point where there has to be some give somewhere and we hope people will be understanding,” Moore said.

Under current circumstances, the city is looking at a $2 million deficit for 2013 and shifting garbage expenses is part of the city’s on-going effort to balance the budget.

In passing the legislation, state lawmakers suggested cities and towns would have to turn to user fees to make up shortfalls in revenues. Elkhart’s proposal is an example of that, Kolo said.

Elkhart City council will host budget hearings in September and establishing garbage fees appears to be part of the overall plan for 2013.

“If we don’t get these things off the tax base, we’ve got some really serious decisions to make,” Moore said. “And that is, what is it you don’t want us to do any more?”

Andrew Carter, who cast the lone opposing vote on the garbage fees Tuesday, said he did so because he isn’t convinced that it is financially necessary for the city to make the move.

The city is already working to make the transition.

The utilities office is working to create a list of residential customers by cross referencing utility records with Elkhart County mapping information on residentially zoned property, Kolo said.

“It’s a large undertaking and a lot of drive-by work,” Kolo said.

Eliminating service to mobile home parks levels the playing field with apartment complexes which do not receive the city service, Kolo said.

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