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Trash deal savings won't trickle down

The city won't pass along garbage collection savings to residents, deciding instead to pool the money for future projects to improve drainage and bring recycled wastewater to residents.

Meeting Tuesday night, the City Council chose to earmark $290,000 toward stormwater and reclaimed water projects. That money was left over from a cheaper garbage collection contract signed last October.

With the savings, the council could have lowered the residential fee $1.20 a month, from $12.70 to $11.50. Instead, Mayor Jerry Beverland said the money combined would serve a greater purpose.

"We're talking about a Coke here," Beverland said.

But some people say the 4-1 decision stinks.

And even City Manager Bruce Haddock said at least part of the money could have been directed better.

When council member Don Bohr suggested funneling the money into the city's reclaimed water initiatives, Haddock objected.

A lack of funds isn't stalling the project, he said. Instead, it's a lack of supply.

"Reclaimed water would be at or near the bottom of my list for a use for that money," Haddock said. "I never promised that everyone in this city would have reclaimed water."

Meanwhile, some people said the money shouldn't be directed to any city project. They said the money belongs to residents.

Loretta Wyandt has lived in the city 38 years. She says the City Council has been quick to hand out money elsewhere. But when it comes to residents, "they've been misers," she said.

As evidence, Wyandt pointed to two recent council decisions.

On Tuesday, the council agreed to forestall a scheduled natural gas franchise tax increase after a local company said the half-percent hike could affect business. That decision, which affects all Oldsmar properties that use natural gas, will cost the city $5,000 in lost tax revenue each year, Haddock said.

And earlier this month, the council agreed to spend up to $7,500 for a study on the possibilities of annexing West Oldsmar. In that case, the city may not be able to annex the land by referendum because a state law requires 30 percent of the land be owned by people who live on the land and are registered voters.

"They dropped $5,000 easy," Wyandt said. "And then they spent $7,000 on the annexation of West Oldsmar.

"But they couldn't give us $1.20?"

Council member Marcelo Caruso agreed with Wyandt. The lone dissenter, he said the money should be returned to residents.

"It's their money," he said.

The cost for garbage collection is dropping because the city hired a new, less expensive trash hauler in October.

The five-year deal with East Bay Sanitation Service saves the city $1.2-million over its old contract with BFI Waste Systems.

Of those savings, the city is diverting only about a quarter of the total to stormwater and reclaimed water projects. The rest will go into the city's general fund.

Seven-year city resident Joe Etheridge strongly objected to the decision not to lower utility bills. "This penny here is the taxpayers' money," he said.

Wyandt said it should have been diverted to the people who pay the bills: Oldsmar residents.

"The city's like a Scrooge here," Wyandt said. "They wouldn't give us a $1.20 back."

_ Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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