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The new trash fees

Trash has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the solid waste management task force (whose report is here) to the new pickup schedules. The initial report called for a $3.50/month trash fee to cover things like enhanced recycling and dumping enforcement. Now there’s a story about a another fee proposal, which I must say is confusing me a bit.

Houston households could see a new charge on their monthly water bills starting this fall — a $2.25 fee to help the city adopt more environment-friendly waste practices — but payment would be optional.

City officials estimate the fee, which is included in the mayor’s 2008 budget but requires a separate ordinance for approval, would bring in about $4.8 million next fiscal year to enhance recycling and composting programs and enforce illegal-dumping laws.

See, that’s exactly what the $3.50 fee was supposed to be about. Does this represent a reduction in that proposal, or a new fee for something else? It’s not clear in this story.

The charge would appear on water bills for all households except those who ask to opt out of the program, said Judy Gray Johnson, the city’s finance and administration director. It was unclear Wednesday what steps residents would take to decline participation.

Officials estimate about half of Houston households would pay the $27 yearly fee. But “we will have no idea until it happens,” Johnson said.

So what would we get for that $2.25 a month? I have no objection to this if it does something useful, but I need more information. And is the city going to try to sell the idea of this to civic-minded folks, or is it just going to assume that most people won’t notice it or won’t bother trying to opt out? Lots of questions to be answered here.

The fee first was proposed nearly two months ago by a mayoral task force as a $3.50 mandatory monthly charge. That would have generated as much as $19 million a year, officials said.

Residents who pay the fee would not receive any special services that wouldn’t be available to those who don’t pay, Johnson said. But the entire community would benefit from payment because certain solid-waste programs would be enhanced, she said. For example, curbside recycling could be offered to more homes and illegal-dumping laws would be better enforced in neighborhoods.

That sound you hear is my head spinning. Can we please get a follow up on this, either a story or a blog post, so that whatever this is can be a little clearer? Thank you.

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