TAMPA — The City Council has taken an early step to stop sending residents monthly bills for garbage collection and instead bill them annually through their property tax bills.
But a final vote on the idea is not expected until May or June, and not before more discussion, with the next workshop scheduled at 5 p.m. Thursday.
City officials say the change would increase the collection of garbage pickup fees at a time when the solid waste department is in danger of depleting its reserves and starting to run an operating deficit.
"There are certain things that the city has proposed that we do to help reduce the amount of the deficit before we start looking at either massive service cuts or huge price hikes," Council member Harry Cohen said during a council discussion of the issue last week. "This is one of the few items that they were able to come up with that is not one of those two alternatives."
If approved, the change would take effect during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, 2012.
As proposed, the change would affect only residential customers, who currently pay $25.20 per month for garbage pickup. That would become an annual assessment of $302.40 on their tax bills.
The idea has drawn opposition. Local lawyer Spencer Kass says city officials have not put out enough information on the solid waste department's finances, how the change would affect residents, especially those on fixed incomes, or whether people could lose their homes because of having a new charge added to their property tax bills.
"We have a lot of questions," Kass said. "Let's understand what we're doing before we do it."
But city officials say the practice already takes place in New Tampa, where Hillsborough County handles garbage pickup and bills residents annually.
"In my investigation, I haven't come up with any substantial evidence that residents in the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County and in New Tampa have seen an increase in foreclosures or in people losing their homes … from solid waste being billed as part of their property taxes," Council member Lisa Montelione said.
Although the council voted unanimously to move the idea forward, several members said they need to know more about the idea and the finances of the solid waste department.
"I think the argument that you're going to lose your home because you're not paying that extra amount seems a little spurious at the moment," Council member Mike Suarez said, "but I would definitely like to see more information."