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City Trash Fee Rattles County Legislature

The City of Albany and Albany County appeared to be headed toward a falling-out over the city's contentious trash fee. But an 11th hour compromise was reached.

If you live in Albany County and ignore or forget to pay trash fees (or any other municipal service payments), you could be tempting foreclosure. That’s done at the county level, Albany County taking the initiative to collect whatever it can, and while the process plays out, reimbursing your municipality in advance for any delinquencies.

Resolution 445 recently became law. It protects Albany County and its taxpayers from having to cover unpaid charges or fees that municipalities may introduce and turn over to the county for reimbursement. This concerns mainly the City of Albany’s future unpaid trash fees. The city budgeted a total of more than $3 million in revenue from the trash fees in 2016 and 2017. Once the unpaid trash fees are sent to the county for collection, they contain a 90 percent late-surcharge, which nearly doubles the original fee.

According to County Legislature Majority Leader Frank Commisso's office, the day after the Legislature voted, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other city officials urged County Executive Dan McCoy to veto Resolution 445, saying the new policy would create a $2 million deficit for the city. She also wrote to members of the legislature, urging them to seek another vote.

Sheehan says county legislators never made any outreach or expressed concern about the issue to the city.  "What resulted was overly broad legislation that would prevent the county from reimbursing any municipality in the county for any fees that are on their tax warrants, and so the response from not just myself, but the mayors of Cohoes and Watervliet and Supervisor Paula Mahan was that this legislation changing a decades-old way of making municipalities whole for their tax levies was really thrown in to complete and utter confusion and disarray, with legislative leaders saying that the legislation or the resolution meant something different than the letter of the resolution, and all of it really could have been addressed if the leadership of the county legislature had simply reached out, sent us a letter, picked up the phone to have a conversation about their concerns with respect to the trash fee."

The trash tax is an issue that just won't go away. The mayor has expressed support for continuing it as is (applying to 2-3-4 unit homes only). There are conflicting views on the Common Council as to whether to keep the tax as is, expand it, or repeal it all together.

11th ward Council Member Judd Krasher sponsors an outright repeal.  "It is a fee that is fundamentally unfair, it is fundamentally flawed. As a matter of fact, when you look at the structure of the actual fee, it's not based on trash at all. It's based on residential occupancy permits. It certainly makes sense that the county legislature wouldn't want to take up that and underwrite essentially a discriminatory trash fee, and I think it's fortunate that the administration, when they first read the legislature's resolution, completely caused unfounded fear with residents and other elected officials in city government saying it would cost the city of Albany $2 million. That was a completely fabricated number, a false figure. This had everything to with the trash tax, and I'm really glad that the county legislature took a stand against it."

Chairman Sean Ward and Majority Leader Frank Commisso strongly disputed the mayor’s $2 million deficit estimate, but they did tell McCoy that they were willing to delay implementation of Resolution 445 for a year to give the city more time to plan for the change. McCoy then approved the law the following Monday.   "There was no intention in this bill to hurt any of the taxpayers or budgets that were presented already for 2017. We identified that. So we put together where we're gonna keep everyone whole for 2017. And for 2018 they're gonna have to come in and really justify why we should pay different fees or we're always gonna keep 'em whole. The way the resolution's written the way the legislature did it was that we'll still collect their fees and they'll get the money like we do. So it might take 'em eight months, might take 'em a year, might take two years. They're always gonna get their money but they're gonna have to wait instead of us keeping 'em whole. And that wouldn't take effect until 2018. But I feel as we work over the next year, things will work out."

The trash fee was due for another airing before the Common Council Tuesday at Albany City Hall, with public comment expected.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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