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Proposal to raise Tampa trash rates, abandon yearly billing, goes to City Council

TAMPA — If the City Council says yes, Tampa residents and businesses will see garbage pickup rates go up twice this year and again in 2013.

And 2014.

And 2015.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is dropping the unpopular idea of billing city residents yearly instead of monthly for garbage pickup, but moving ahead with the proposed rate increases and another plan to bolster the struggling Solid Waste Department.

On Thursday, Buckhorn's administration will ask the City Council to consider creating Tampa's first-ever franchise fees for private commercial garbage haulers that work in the city. Once in place, the fees are expected to raise $325,000 this year and $1.3 million a year starting in 2013.

Later in the same meeting, the council will consider the city's first solid waste pickup rate increases since 2005.

If approved, commercial pickup rates would rise 12 percent to start.

Residential rates would rise from the current $25.25 per month to $29.04 for customers younger than 65. For customers 65 and older, the rate would go from $22.25 to $25.59.

That rate increase would go into effect April 1 and raise more than $3.3 million for the remainder of the city's fiscal year.

Then, commercial rates would rise another 12 percent on Oct. 1, plus 12 percent more each Oct. 1 in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Residential rates would continue to rise on the same schedule, topping out at $34.91 per month in 2015 ($30.76 per month for customers 65 and older).

City officials dropped the idea of charging an annual assessment for garbage pickup — it would have appeared on property tax statements — after encountering resistance.

"It didn't seem like the support was there on council," Buckhorn said Monday.

Among other things, some council members were disturbed that homeowners would have been charged the assessment even if their houses were vacant.

Moreover, residents told city officials they preferred the monthly billing, solid waste director Tonja Brickhouse said.

Still, officials say, the rate increases and franchise fees are necessary. Not only does fuel cost more, but:

• The bad economy and the surge in foreclosures have shrunk the city's customer base, cutting revenues.

• The city has delayed replacing vehicles, but its fleet is aging and maintenance costs are on the rise.

• Despite cutting employees — from 232 in 2009 to 217 now — pension contributions and health-care costs have risen.

In response, the city has cut the department's operating expenses by $4.3 million per year. It now sells nonferrous metal recovered from incinerator ash. It stopped "makeup" pickups after some holidays. It closed the Manhattan Avenue brush disposal site.

But those steps haven't been enough, officials say.

Without additional action, the department is projected to run operating deficits that start at $8.9 million in 2013 and grow to $55.3 million in 2016.

Proposal to raise Tampa trash rates, abandon yearly billing, goes to City Council 02/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 8:01am]
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