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Carlee: Any new garbage fee would come with ‘offsets’

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said any new garbage fee that could be imposed by the city under a “pay as you throw” system would come with financial “offsets” for taxpayers.

“This is not a revenue generator program,” Carlee said at a City Council meeting Monday. “If it doesn’t achieve those environmental ends, there’s not reason to go down that path at all.”

Carlee stressed that the city’s research on a new system is preliminary.

Carlee declined to say whether any new fee structure would be “revenue-neutral,” with city government collecting the same amount of money before and after any new garbage fee might be levied.

But he said that the city understands residents’ concerns about any new fees that could be levied on top of what people already pay.

“I would not consider that tenable,” Carlee said in an interview Wednesday. “People are going to ask, ‘What are we going to get back for it?’ ”

The city is studying whether to recommend switching to a pay as you throw system, with a goal of reducing the amount of trash going into the city’s landfill near Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Solid Waste Services Department will make a recommendation to council members in May.

The idea of charging residents for how much garbage they produce has concerned numerous citizens, and Carlee acknowledged that people are “anxious” about any change.

Nationwide, there are a number of pay as you throw systems. In some municipalities, residents must place their trash in special bags, which they buy at stores. In others, special tags are placed on generic garbage bags.

Solid Waste Services officials have said those systems might be too complicated for such a large city as Charlotte. They said a more practical method might be introduce different-sized trash containers, with a different price for each.

Residents could choose to keep their 96-gallon container. Or they could pay less by using a smaller container.

Austin, Texas uses this system and has four container sizes, including one that is just 24 gallons.

Austin started that new system in 1997. Previously the city paid for garbage collection through a flat fee system.

A challenge in Charlotte is that Solid Waste Services is not what’s known as an enterprise fund. In an enterprise fund, the cost of providing that service is almost entirely paid for by user fees.

The city’s water department is an enterprise fund, with water and stormwater bills covering operating and capital costs.

Solid Waste Services is mostly funded from the general fund, which is mostly funded from property taxes.

At Monday’s meeting, council member Claire Fallon asked whether the city would lower property taxes if any new fee was imposed.

Carlee said one challenge would be determining how to roll back property taxes, which are paid for by both residents and commercial property. The city doesn’t provide garbage collection for commercial buildings.

“It's challenging,” Carlee said. “Getting one-to-one relationships is hard.”

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