Albany's 'Trash Tax' Debate Goes On

Sep 8, 2016

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

In January, the Albany Common Council passed, at the request of Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a trash collection tax that applies to two-, three-, and four-unit buildings.  Two months later, the council re-examined the tax, ultimately voting 8-5 to keep the trash fee as is. The Council is re-visiting the thorny issue tonight.

The trash tax — to expand or expunge? Common Council members invite the public to join in discussion to consider legislation to expand the current trash tax to blanket all residential buildings.  11th ward Councilmember Judd Krasher:    "Perhaps most significantly, the trash tax would, under this proposal, made by Councilmember Conti, make the fee apply to every single-family home in the city of Albany, with very little exception."

Krasher favors repealing the tax entirely.  His proposed repeal is also up for consideration.  "The overall thought on the trash tax is it's taking an already terrible idea, an already discriminatory idea, and policy, and spreading it across virtually the entire city. I think that's a wrong way to go. When you look at what is actually equitable, and the argument is often made to expand the trash fee to single-unit homes because that is the more equitable approach, but actually that's not correct."

10th ward Councilmember Leah Golby voted in March to keep the fee, warning all:  "Down the line, when we don't have the landfill anymore, everybody is going to have to start paying to pick up trash."

According to Krasher, the city commissioned two studies to examine how to establish a free-standing garbage tax that building owners would come to understand as a separate entity from property taxes.  "Those two studies indicate very clearly that an equitable fee structure isn't some sort of flat rate. It is based on how much garbage you produce."

Krasher says the current and proposed fee structures look nothing like a fair "pay as you throw" system.  "Really it's just a money grab, because the mayor's office, for the past several years, has been grossly irresponsible in properly budgeting revenue and savings."

In March, the city budget director made remarks some interpreted as suggesting that if Albany received state funding to shore up its budget, the tax might sunset. The city did get financial relief in so-called spin-up funding from the state, but some say there's a bigger hole now since two sinkholes opened up this year, costing the city millions, and anticipated revenue from red light cameras failed to materialize.

Reached for comment, the mayor’s office replied it has no plans to propose any changes in the current trash fee for 2017. Which effectively hands the ball back to the council.

6th ward Councilman Richard Conti favors the blanket tax but could not be reached for comment. Krasher disagrees.  "So the bottom line with Councilmember Conti's proposed expansion of the trash tax to single-family homes is making an already bad idea even worse by applying it to the entire city."

The Common Council meeting convenes at 7 at Albany City Hall.