The question over Arnold’s so called “free” trash service rose unexpectedly at Thursday evening's city council meeting. Arnold hires Allied Waste to collect trash for city residents at a cost of $11.99 per household each month. The city is authorized to collect $7 a month from each household, which would generate $565,908 in revenue that could be applied toward the trash service.
The city has been waiving the fee for residents since 1999, according to City Attorney Robert Sweeney.
The debate seemed to be split between the liberal and conservative council members.
“The liberals want to spend the money and the conservatives want to give it back,” said Ward 3 Councilman Phil Amato.
Amato gave a brief history lesson on the trash saga for council members who haven’t lived in the city as long as himself. He said that Arnold started picking up the bill for the resident’s trash service back in the 1970’s, after a one cent sales tax was passed. “Now sales tax is half our revenue,” he said. He said it was “liberal” council members who put the trash service up for a vote in 1990 in order to raise more money. People he talked to back then felt it was “legalized extortion,” because if they didn’t agree to pay the city for citywide trash service they would have to seek out their own trash company at a higher price. “They voted for it because they felt they had no choice,” he said.
Amato said that trash fees were waived once again after the administration changed hands in 2001.
Councilman Paul Freese said the city could certainly afford to pick up the bill on trash services because it currently has eight million in “undesignated reserves,” which is like the city’s savings account.
“Our city is not struggling like other cities,” he said. “We have funds to pay for trash. Its a tax rebate—you can spend your money a lot more wisely than we can up here for you. It's your money,” Freese said.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Michelle Hohmeier said it was not about if the city could afford to pay for the service or not, but whether they were following the will of the people. “In 1990 the people voted to pay for trash,” she said. “We’re not obeying our own laws.”
Ward 1 Councilwoman Doris Borgelt said that the extra money could be used to fix more pressing matters, like streets or broken storm sewers. “You have residents over in Ward 4, that’s not in my ward, they have turds, toilet paper and tampons floating in their yards when it rains. We have to put a stop to that,” she said. “You can take money out of this budget and put it into storm sewers.”
City Treasurer Dan Kroupa pointed out that storm sewers were handled by a different part of the budget and not part of the current discussion.
The council voted 6 to 2 in favor of waiving the trash bill for city residents from September 2012 to August 2013. Councilwomen Doris Borgelt and Christine Lang voted against waiving the fees.
Note: Article updated to reflect that $565,908 is the amount the city could have collected from residents, not the complete price of the trash service for the year.