TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio is withdrawing her proposal to increase garbage collection fees by about $1.80 a month, citing legal problems.
"It was an idea. But not an idea that can be implemented," she said Thursday.
Iorio wanted the increase to cover some costs of the Clean City division, which handles such tasks as removing graffiti and keeping medians tidy.
She introduced the plan in February as a way to help offset a $17-million budget shortfall because of declining property tax revenues. She estimated the fee hike would generate $3.6-million a year.
But City Attorney David Smith said a legal analysis determined solid waste fees must relate directly to services provided to individual property owners. The Clean City division is responsible for public areas.
That makes it "impossible to treat these charges as a user fee," Smith wrote in a memo to Iorio.
He said the funding could legally come through a special assessment, but Iorio said she doesn't want to create any new fees.
Iorio said she received a few negative comments from Tampa residents who opposed a garbage fee hike, but the response wasn't overwhelming.
"I also got some positives as I went around and talked to people," she said. "People are concerned about services being cut."
Last month, at Iorio's urging, the City Council agreed to schedule public hearings on the garbage collection fee boost, though some members were lukewarm about the idea from the beginning.
Council member Charlie Miranda had said he would only support a fee increase if it related to an increase in the actual cost of garbage collection.
And council members Mary Mulhern and John Dingfelder backed exploring the cost savings of once-a-week garbage collection instead of raising fees.
"I wasn't ready to ask for a fee increase," Mulhern said.
But Iorio rejected the once-a-week collection idea, and said she still opposes it. She said she will try to find other ways to save money.
Last year, she eliminated more than 120 full-time city jobs when property tax reductions forced her to cut $20-million from the city's budget. About half of the people affected by those cuts found other city jobs.
An internal task force is looking at ways to further trim costs.
In November, based on task force recommendations, Iorio unveiled a proposal to save $3.4-million by consolidating some operations, making technological improvements and privatizing some services. That would result in about 100 more job cuts.
"We're just going to continue to find ways to reduce the size of government," Iorio said.
She wouldn't comment on the possibility of even more layoffs.
"We have to shrink the size of our operations. That's a given for every county and every city in the state of Florida," she said. "You have to do that as carefully as possible and look at those services the citizens really depend on and preserve them as best you can."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.