Kill that trash subsidy

Works for me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner, working to close a $160 million budget deficit, has proposed scrapping payments that scores of Houston neighborhoods served by private trash haulers receive to help offset the cost of their waste contracts.

The idea when the program started in the 1970s was that residents should not have to pay property taxes for city trash services they were not receiving – particularly because they were already paying for waste pickup in their homeowner association dues. The city also came out ahead because the $6 monthly per-house subsidy was cheaper than the cost of the city serving each home itself, now estimated at $18 per home per month.

In scraping together a balanced budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, however, Turner felt the program was expendable. In many cases, the subsidies go to residents who have chosen to pay for more extensive services than those the city provides, such as having the trash picked up more frequently than once a week, or having workers walk up a resident’s driveway to retrieve the trash rather than the homeowner rolling a bin to the curb.

Cutting these “sponsorship” payments to the 48,000 homes participating would save the city $3.5 million.

“When I drilled down in every department and every line item and I saw that line item sticking out, my question was, ‘Is this one that people can give up without hurting them and the core services, things that are essential to the city?'” Turner said. “I decided this was something the city at this particular point in time was not in a position to continue to sponsor.”

City Council will begin hearings on Turner’s proposed budget on Monday, leading up to a final vote that could come as early as May 25.


“If they end up saying it’s that big of a difference, that they will give up their contracts and will turn to the city, then yeah, OK, more than likely I’ll remove it,” Turner said. “I’m not trying to make their situation bad, I’m simply trying to balance a budget that’s $160 million short, and I’ve asked people to engage in shared sacrifice.”

The mayor also suggested, wearing a slight grin, that reporters examine the subdivisions now receiving trash subsidies.

The three City Council districts home to 83 percent of the city’s sponsorship agreements, records show, also are the three districts with the highest median household incomes in the city: District G on the west side, District E in Kingwood and Clear Lake, and District C, which covers much of the western half of the Inner Loop.

[CM Dave] Martin acknowledged that he and many of his neighbors receiving private trash service in District E can cover a $6-per-month increase in their civic association dues.

“If you’re used to getting your trash picked up twice a week and you’re used to backdoor service, most people are probably going to say, ‘Keep my six bucks,'” Martin said. “They’re mostly the people that have the means to pay an extra $6 a month.”

Yes indeed. And now is the time for the city to say to these folks that we can no longer afford to subsidize their premium trash collection service. We all have to make sacrifices in these lean times, don’t you know. The irony is that if enough people decide that the sacrifice they’d prefer to make is the higher level of service, in return for saving a few bucks a month, then it won’t be worth the city’s effort to make them make that sacrifice. I suspect that the vast majority of them will take the original deal, of keeping the service but paying full price for it. If nothing else, it will allow those who are so inclined to piss and moan about how hard they have it now. Surely that’s worth the six bucks a month to them. KUHF has more.

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5 Responses to Kill that trash subsidy

  1. Steve Houston says:

    Given the city doesn’t have a dedicated trash pick up fee like most places, many that complained when such was suggested in previous years will now find themselves losing their subsidy. Had the fee been established, by forgoing the service, they would have escaped having to pay it so the laugh is on them. And given my knowledge of at least a few of those communities, I doubt most will revert back to having the city pick up their trash as much because they consider it a status symbol to have better services. They want back door pick up, twice a week service and more flexible rules for other services so by all means let them pay for such.

  2. Justin says:

    How out of touch is Martin? We haven’t had backdoor service in many, many years — approaching 20. And people wouldn’t keep that for an extra $20/year (somewhere between$25 to $30/year in today’s dollars.

  3. Ross says:

    What happens to the homes that the City won’t service? Like the townhouse developments. The City refuses to pick up trash from any house that does not face a street, which forces those homes to use a private service.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    Ross, I don’t see this latest development changing how apartment and those townhome developments are treated at all. They will still have commercial pickup, yes?

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Ah, another hit on Clear Lake and Kingwood, both areas that did not want any part of Houston to begin with. They should be used to being treated as cash cows and bastard step children by the city of Houston, there only to pay for others.

    The only fair system for trash service is for each home that receives the service from the city to pay a monthly fee for that service as a line item on the water bill, just like every other city in the area besides Houston. It ought to be a user fee, and folks that can’t get or don’t want city trash service shouldn’t have to pay for it.

    But hey, let’s just squeeze a little more money out of the people paying all the taxes to begin with, right CoH? If I lived in those areas, I’d tell the city, OK, keep my $ 6 a month and just start picking up my trash, just out of principle.

    Having said that, I bet Turner is right. Those affluent folks will just pay more for their trash service.

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