Trash Fee Extension Given OK
By Paul Tuthill
Springfield, MA – As the Massachusetts House continues to debate a proposed state budget that will cut aid to cities and towns, municipalities are struggling to find ways to balance their books. The Springfield City Council has voted to continue to charge a controversial fee for residential trash service WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports .
The 8 to five vote Monday night was a reversal for the Springfield City Council, which just a few months ago, because of a tie vote, rejected a bill sought by the mayor to keep the trash fee. The fee is scheduled to expire June 30th, the end of the current fiscal year, unless the council votes to extend it.
The fee brings in 3 point 3 million dollars a year, according to city officials. City Councilor Michael Fenton, who chairs the finance committee, says the city needs every dime it can get to avert severe budget cuts.
Fenton says the trash fee ordinance the council gave its preliminary approval to Monday night is new and improved.
The discount available to the elderly, disabled and military veterans will be 25 dollars off the 75 dollar fee..rather than the current 25 percent discount. Fenton says the change in the way the city goes about enforcing the fee will cut down on illegal dumping of trash.
The municipal trash fee has been controversial and politically charged from the time is was implemented by the former Springfield Finance Control Board in 2007. Mayor Domenic Sarno , in his first run for the office that year, vowed to eliminate the fee, but after he was elected changed his mind. Sarno reduced it from 90 dollars to the current 75 , and put in discounts for seniors.
City councilor Kateri Walsh says opposition to the trash fee appears to be softening since a proposal was floated to substitute city issued trash bags that people would have purchase at local stores..
City councilor John Lysak, who opposed extending the life of the trash fee, said the administration has known for three years it was going to sunset and should have planned accordingly.
Even with the revenue from the trash fee, Mayor Sarno says the city is still facing a budget gap of five point 4 million dollars..
Sarno last week said the city's municipal employee unions would be asked for concessions. The mayor proposes a one year wage freeze and an unpaid furlough day a month for each of the city's roughly 15 hundred municipal employees.
The Springfield Public Schools face an even larger budget deficit projected currently to be 18 million dollars, because of the loss of federal stimulus money. School officials, later this week will present a proposal to close that gap.
Governor Deval Patrick and legislative leaders have agreed on a state budget that will cut local aid by seven percent. Since the recession began four years ago, local aid has been cut by more than 40 percent according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Reporting from Springfield, I'm Paul Tuthill WAMC News.