Published: December 01, 2011

Tampa council gives nod to yearly trash billing

By Christian m. Wade

The city council today gave a tentative nod to a proposal to switch from monthly billing for trash collection to annual, tacking on those charges to property tax bills.

The move is aimed at helping the bottom line of the city's solid waste department, which has been struggling to meet its operating expenses. Collecting trash bills annually would give the city the money earlier in the fiscal year and could reduce billing costs.

Today's action by council doesn't approve the changes, which would have to be vetted in two public hearings and two votes, and that won't likely happen until March. But it gives the city the authority to notify Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden that the city is considering making the billing changes, which is required under state law.

Spencer Kass, president of the Virginia Park Homeowners Association, said community leaders and neighborhood groups have a "number of concerns" about the proposal.

"We need to sit down and have a discussion about how this would work," he said, citing the potential impact on elderly and low-income residents who can't afford to pay yearly.

Several council members said they, too, have concerns about the proposed changes.

"We need more information about this," council Chairman Charlie Miranda said.

Based on the city's flat rate of $25.25 a month for residential trash collection, if approved the changes would add another $303 to Tampa residents' annual property tax bills.

The changes would not affect commercial trash collection, city officials said.

Customers in New Tampa and the University of South Florida area wouldn't be affected by the changes. Trash pickup in those areas, which were annexed into the city after 1983, is handled by companies under contract with Hillsborough County.

Under the city's charter, the solid waste department is supposed to be self-sustaining, with money from trash collection, dump tipping fees, recycling and other activities.

But similar to Tampa's other enterprise funds the parking division, water and sewer departments those revenues aren't enough to cover the cost of providing service, leaving officials to take money from a reserve fund.

By 2013, the reserve fund will be depleted, officials have said, and the department will have to be subsidized with property tax dollars from the city's already-strained general fund.

City officials attributed the revenue drop to a loss in residential and commercial customers as properties have fallen into foreclosure and residents have moved out of the city.

City officials are weighing a move to increase commercial garbage rates within the next year, but there are no plans to increase the monthly rate for residential pickup.

Other cost-cutting initiatives being explored include switching from twice- to once-a-week collection and charging residents based on how much trash they throw out.

The council will discuss those and other solid waste issues at a workshop next Thursday. © Copyright 2011 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General company.