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Springfield City Councilors call for scrapping trash fee

Paul Tuthill
The $90 annual fee charged residents in Springfield for curbside trash collection also covers recycling and yard waste pickups.

Administration rejects proposal to use free cash to cover the fee

City Councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts kicked around an old political football last night.

In a largely symbolic vote, but one with possible political implications, the Springfield City Council passed a resolution urging the use of a tiny sum from the city’s big pile of free cash to eliminate the annual $90 fee charged to residents for curbside trash collection.

The vote was 7-4 and it followed almost an hour of debate. The resolution has no force of law, since under the city charter all financial orders must originate from the mayor.

Mayor Domenic Sarno, in a written statement, rejected the proposal. His statement touted the city’s trash, single-stream recycling, yard waste, and bulk waste collection programs and highlighted fiscal policies he credited for achieving the highest bond rating in the city’s history and for having enough cash socked away for unforeseen emergencies.

The resolution was introduced by Councilor Justin Hurst, who argued the city can afford to part with $3.7 million from its more than $65 million in cash reserves to give a break to residents straining under rising property tax bills and the highest price inflation in decades.

“I would argue a vote tonight, at the very least, show the Councilors in this chamber care,” Hurst said.

Hurst, last November, announced his candidacy for mayor this year.

“Lets send a message to the mayor that we want something done,” Hurst said. “Lets send a message that we are for those residents who are struggling this evening and we want to see financial relief now.”

The city used $10 million from free cash to lower this year’s property tax levy. But the tax bill for the average single-family home still increased by $194.

During the debate Monday night, Councilor Zaida Govan read several social media posts by Springfield residents complaining about their tax bills that hit mailboxes last week.

“We are going to lose the people who are living in our homes, we are no longer going to be known as ‘The City of Homes’ because nobody is going to be able to afford to live here,” Govan said.

Springfield’s city coffers may be flush with cash now, but it is an illusion of fiscal health said City Councilor Mike Fenton.

“We continue to have substantial financial hardship particularly when it relates to our escalating expenses and our unfunded pension liability and it would not just be imprudent to eliminate the trash fee at this time, it is completely impractical,” Fenton said.

Fenton along with Councilors Tim Allen, Melvin Edwards, and Maria Perez voted against the resolution. (Councilors Malo Brown and Lavar Click-Bruce were absent from the meeting)

The trash fee was created in 2007 by the state-appointed board that was in charge of Springfield’s finances at the time. A lawsuit by a group of property-owners failed to block it. The fee was originally $75. In 2013, the City Council voted to raise it by $15. There is a $50 fee available to income-eligible seniors and some others.

When Sarno first ran for mayor in 2007 and won he campaigned on getting rid of the trash fee. But then the Great Recession hit, poking a huge hole in municipal finances and forcing Sarno to back off his promise.

In 2019, when he was considering a run for mayor, then-City Councilor Orlando Ramos proposed using marijuana tax revenue to replace the trash fee.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.