Is a $3.50 monthly "waste reduction fee" in your future in Houston? It might be, though it's a little early to say for sure.
The fee, which would be new for Houston, would generate as much as $19 million that could be used to enhance recycling, launch new conservation efforts and pay for more enforcement of illegal dumping, according to the task force.
"This is the beginning of a conversation about where we're going with solid waste in the future," Mayor Bill White told council members at the start of a two-hour special meeting on the topic.
He said after the meeting that he agreed with many of the task force's ideas, though he wouldn't endorse the amount of the proposed fee, which he said needs more discussion and assurances that it "wouldn't be a burden on families."
"I want feedback from the council and members of the public," White said.
The fee was one of many recommendations by the task force, which was chaired by retired CEO Lorne Bain and included a cross-section of people from the community, government and business.
Council members focused much of their attention on the fee, with some voicing concern about public reaction and others suggesting their constituents would accept the charge if the rationale were explained.
"I don't think a fee is going to be a problem," Councilwoman Toni Lawrence said. "You just have to educate, and people understand. If they're getting something in return, I see a lot of cooperation on this."
Councilman Michael Berry, however, suggested the idea would be a tough sell, particularly the recommendations for reducing heavy trash collections.
"All I hear is less service, higher cost," he said. "It's very hard for me to justify that that's not true."
As envisioned by the task force, the proposed "waste reduction fee" would be used to pay for heavy trash pickup, recycling and yard waste collection. Regular weekly garbage service would continue to be paid for out of the tax-supported general fund.
City Controller Annise Parker, who co-chaired the panel, said the extra revenue in a new, dedicated fund would let the city focus more money on conservation at the same time it faces an austere budget climate as costs for public safety increase. Police, fire and emergency medical services account for about two-thirds of the city's operating budget.
The city's Solid Waste Department, for example, would need at least $3 million to restart its composting program for yard waste, an effort White has touted as a way to divert that waste from area landfills.
UPDATE: Miya has more.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 03, 2007 to Local politics