Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

There’s no such thing as free trash

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.

First things first: Just because it appears in a task force report doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Anyone remember Governor Perry’s task force on appraisal reform? Their recommendations haven’t exactly caught fire in the Lege, though it’s still early days for that sort of thing.

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.”

I dunno, I’m hearing “less money spent on an underutilized service, and new money available to expand existing services”. Guess it’s all in how you look at it. I wouldn’t claim to be typical, but I think we use heavy trash maybe once a year. I generally don’t even know when heavy trash pickup is. The story says only 30% of neighborhoods use it regularly. Doesn’t it make some sense to rethink how that’s done? I’m a little surprised by Council Member Berry’s skepticism.

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.

What I really want to know is what the city intends to do to about recycling, which as we know is also an underutilized service, though in a different way than heavy trash is. Everyone has paper, plastic, cans, and the like to get rid of every week, but many people haven’t made a habit of separating them out from the regular garbage. If part of the goal is reducing solid waste (which was a stated goal of Mayor White’s in his State of the City address), boosting the recycling program should be a key component. I at least won’t mind paying $3.50 a month to help make that happen. I just want to know what the plan for that will be.

UPDATE: Miya has more.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

4 Comments

  1. Christof Spieler says:

    There’s another part of this story that the Chronicle buries in the back of the story:

    Trash pickup in the city of Houston is paid for with everyone’s taxes. But it’s provided only to single family residences.

    Why does that make sense? Why should people who live in apartments, condos, and large townhouse complexes subsidize those who live in houses and small townhouse complexes?

    Some things ought to be paid for with general revenues. But some should come from user fees. Let everyone pay for the cost of their own trash service. And cut general taxes accordingly.

  2. becky says:

    I am a big user of the 2nd Monday Big Trash pickup. I find more people here in the Heights use the Big Trash pick up than the recycle, so I hope they don’t discontinue Big Trash monthly.

    And an answer to Christof who commented – the same way you pay for trash for everyone is the same way home owners pay property taxes and school taxes whether they have children in school or not – so $3.50 a month is diddly compared with the thousands a year I pay in prop. and school taxes.

  3. RL says:

    Mayor White: More fees for less services. Bill White for Houston (or Texas). That’s a campaign commercial I can hear right now.

  4. Christof Spieler says:

    I’d say trash is different from schools. We don;t educate children for the ebenfit of their parents; we educate children for the benefit of society as a whole.

    If it makes sense to pay for trash from general revenue, why not electricity? phone? cable TV? lawn mowing? Charged for trash by the can, like many cities do, actually penalizes people who create more trash — thus using more landfill capacity — and rewards those who create less. Some cities even provide special, cheap mini-cans for people who are good enough about recycling to produce less than a can of garbage a week. The current system has all the wrong incentives. What we’re doing right now is like charging everyone for HBO whether they have cable TV or not.