Posted: Tuesday, March 5th 2013 at 11:37pm
Cornelia residents speak out against trash fee increase
By Rob Moore Editor
Cornelia resident Brenda Garcia urges Cornelia leaders not to increase sanitation fees. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CORNELIA – The prospect of increased trash collection rates led to heated comments during Tuesday night’s Cornelia City Commission meeting.
In presenting the issue, City Manager Donald Anderson said the cost of providing the city’s sanitation services (garbage, leaf, and brush pickup, and removal of other items) is greater than the revenue collected for the service.
The 2013 budget includes $385,370 for sanitation, while the projected revenue is only $325,000, he said. That creates a net shortfall of $60,370 if the city takes no action.
If the city charges an additional $3 per month per customer, the net shortfall decreases to $20,370, Anderson said.
Anderson said property taxes were used to make up for the difference in years past, but the current economy means the sanitation fund needs to be self-sufficient.
Citing higher fuel costs and increased tipping fees at the landfill, Anderson said an increase is imperative.
“Since 2006, sanitation budget has decreased from $444,565 to $385,370,” Anderson said.
The savings are due to the elimination of a supervisor position and limited purchasing of new equipment in recent years, he said.
He pointed out the city will need to spend a total of $285,000 over the next five years to purchase a new truck to transport leaves, a new brush chipper, and a new 25-yard garbage truck.
While achieving a balanced sanitation budget purely by a rate increase would require a monthly fee of $21, Anderson is proposing that the city increase the fee from $15 to $18 per month, with cost-saving measures implemented in an attempt to make up the additional difference.
Resident Carole Lonergan, who said she previously served as a city commissioner elsewhere, identified herself as “an outspoken conservative.” She urged city leaders not to increase fees.
“I was at the [workshop] meeting over there earlier and I heard one of the commissioners kind of snicker about fixed income,” Lonergan said. “Well after 46 years, we’re about to be on fixed income pretty soon.”
“I keep seeing fees and taxes and everything go up,” Lonergan said. “The city and county are out of control, just like the government is out of control. We need to find the money for this $3 someplace rather than increase the fees.”
Likewise, Cornelia resident and former Ward 2 Commissioner Brenda Garcia urged city leaders to find an alternative to raising fees.
Garcia disputed Anderson’s statement that sanitation rates have not been increased since December 2005, saying they were increased during her term, in 2007.
Then she took issue with purported actions of Ward 3 Commissioner Don Bagwell.
“To snicker about there not being any low-income people in this town, that’s just bad,” Garcia said. “Shame on you.”
But Bagwell was quick to respond.
“I have to take issue with that, because that is not what I did and I was misrepresented,” Bagwell said. “I made that comment and what I said was, ‘the first thing we’re going to hear is fixed income.’”
“Well, yes – and you should,” Garcia said.
“And I did not snicker or laugh or anything,” Bagwell said. “I was misrepresented and I resent that. I did not snicker – I would never snicker at somebody on a fixed income. That is an insult to me personally!”
Garcia, who pointed out a millage increase in October, asked if there is nowhere the city can cut back.
Anderson said the city has continued to cut budgets, but that residents don’t want to give up services. In addition to rising fuel costs, he said a surprise spike in energy costs has hit the city.
“We just found out last week that HEMC had a rate increase that nobody knew was happening, but we had cut our electric bill budget by $50,000 at the wastewater plant, and we’re already over budget for the year because they increased their rates the first of the year,” Anderson said. “We didn’t get any notice on that. We just got a bill that was a lot higher than we expected.”
Garcia proposed requiring police officers with take-home vehicles to pay for their own fuel, and that the city stop buying new vehicles for people who work desk jobs.
Following the conclusion of Garcia’s remarks, Lonergan returned to the microphone to apologize to Bagwell.
“I’d like to publicly apologize if I took your comment out of context,” Lonergan said. “I may have come in with the mindset that made me think that.”
“You certainly did misrepresent me, and I appreciate the apology,” Bagwell said. “Thank you.”
Mayor J.C. Irby thanked the women for their participation in the public hearing.
“It’s not an easy situation, and we realize that,” Irby said. “We understand your frustration – believe me. It’s a dilemma.”
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