CANTON — In an unscheduled vote Thursday night, the Canton City Council adopted a 40 percent increase in the trash pickup rate to be charged to the city’s senior residents for fiscal 2014.
The City Council voted 4-2 during its work session Thursday night — with Councilmen Jack Goodwin and Glen Cummins opposing — to raise the senior trash pickup rate from $7.50 to $10.50 monthly in what they said was an effort to offset the city’s costs for the service.
Mayor Gene Hobgood, however, said since the topic of senior trash rates was only scheduled to be discussed Thursday night, the public wasn’t given proper notice of the increase and he may consider vetoing the vote.
“I would (veto it) if I could,” Hobgood said Friday. “The question now has arisen if a budget amendment is required. If there’s not a budget amendment, I won’t have that opportunity.”
Canton Chief Financial Officer Nathan Ingram said Friday that “technically,” no budget amendment was necessary, because the new rate will increase revenue. City Manager Scott Wood, though, said Friday that he planned to present the council with a budget amendment for consideration at its next meeting, as was discussed during Thursday’s meeting.
Hobgood said he also took offense to the vote Thursday night because it was taken during a work session, which is in “direct contrast” to a policy adopted by the City Council in May 2012.
Councilman Bob Rush, who suggested the senior rate hike to offset city costs, disagrees.
“We established the fact a couple of months ago that we can vote at any meeting,” Rush said Friday, adding that two other votes were taken Thursday night, one of which being for a proposal brought forward by Hobgood. Hobgood’s item was the reinstatement of the low flow toilet rebate program. Rush said during the meeting Thursday the increase in the trash pickup rate was necessary because seniors have long paid less than what the service costs the city, and non-seniors have been picking up the slack.
“This is not a new topic,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this for about three years. I think the seniors should at least pay the cost of administering the program, so that the rest of the citizens don’t subsidize the senior trash pickup.”
Rush said the senior rate has been $7.50 monthly since 2000, while the rate for non-seniors has gone up more than $3 in that time, settling on the present rate of $16.50. The actual cost to the city is $10.15 per customer per month for seniors and $10.29 for non-seniors, Rush said. But Goodwin said the rate hike was unnecessary and “wrong”— particularly because the City Council voted last month to not increase the city’s millage rate.
“Two weeks ago we voted for no increases in taxes,” Goodwin said during the meeting. “I think to go now and hit up our senior citizens, of all people, the people who have the least and worked the hardest … to slap them in the face with an increase, I think is the wrong thing, the wrong message for us to send after we just did something for the people of Canton.”
Rush said, ideally, seniors and other residents would pay the same rate, although he didn’t see that happening.
“We could drop the (non-senior) price to whatever we wanted to do, but that would reduce the money in the budget,” he said. “That would cause us a problem in our financing.”
Rush added that the city “shouldn’t be using trash collection as a profit center,” although the new senior rate will result in more revenue for the city.
“The city shouldn’t make any money off it, because we don’t provide any service; all we do is bill,” Rush said. “But that’s in a perfect world, and that’s not going to happen.”
Hobgood agreed Canton has made money off its trash collection fees.
“We have used this garbage collection as a money-maker,” he said during the meeting Thursday. “In fact, for 10 months ending through July, we (have) about $225,000 more in revenue than we have expenditures for the garbage. If you take the $225,000 we’ve already got and divide that by (our) 6,000 customers, we ought to be giving them $37.50 back.”
Cummins said the council should take a step back and wait to consider upping the seniors’ trash rate when the city’s contract for billing with Waste Management ends in 2014.
“I think we ought to wait on this change and look at the entire sanitation subject well in advance of the contract renewal and make a determination at that time,” Cummins told the council Thursday, adding that Canton might decide to let Waste Management handle the billing itself.
But Councilman Hooky Huffman said with both Canton’s police and fire departments short-staffed, the time has come for increased rates in Canton.
“Whenever there’s something that comes up that resembles an increase, we want to get down into the weeds and dig, dig, dig,” Huffman said during the meeting Thursday. “This is not something that complicated. This is something simple. I say let’s vote tonight.”
Huffman said if anyone in Canton can afford paying more for trash collection, it’s the seniors.
“The seniors can stand up and pay that,” said Huffman, who also opposed the council’s recent move to not increase taxes. “We’ve got to start paying our way, and the seniors are the ones who can afford it the best. The people that can’t afford it are the young people.”