Is a Solid Waste Fee the Answer to the Budget Problems of One Virginia City?

The city of Roanoke, Va., last considered charging a solid waste fee in 2015.

The city of Roanoke, Va., says it is $6.45 million short of where it needs to be to cover government spending requests. Among the fixes the city could be considering, is charging residents for its solid waste program.

The city of Roanoke collects 90 percent of the refuse generated by approximately 42,000 households by automated collection and recycling trucks. Currently, Roanoke does not charge residents for its solid waste collection programs.

The city offers weekly pickup of brush, bulk and trash, and works on an “A Week, B Week” or alternating pickup for recycling, says City of Roanoke Solid Waste Management Director Skip Decker. Currently 7 percent of customers are serviced by a semi-automatic packer truck used primarily in alleys, and the remaining collection is done by smaller trucks.

There has not yet been a specific discussion on the amount council might consider charging residents for the solid waste fee should it come to that. However, in 2015, when the city’s budget faced a $2.5 million shortfall, council considered collecting a $7 monthly solid waste fee from customers. But it feared the fee would cause undue hardships on some low-income households.  

Instead, the council settled on increasing real estate and meals taxes and vehicle licensing fees in 2015 to balance the budget.

To solve the current problem, council members must find some combination of additional revenue and cuts to budget proposals to overcome disappointing local tax revenues for the new budget year beginning July 1. The solid waste fee was floated as a concept without a specific amount. Each dollar per month would raise $373,410. A fee of $7 per month—the fee considered in 2015—would raise $2.6 million, less than half the current shortfall.

As with many cities across the state of Virginia, nearby Lynchburg and Harrisonburg charge customers for solid waste services to offset the rising costs of collection. In 2016, the city of Newport News—across the state from Roanoke—began charging customers a solid waste fee to cover the cost of landfilling and recycling residential waste. The fee is used exclusively for those solid waste and recycling services. The city charges residents of single-family homes, townhouses, condos and mobile homes whether they receive the city’s automated trash services or pay a private contractor. Newport News includes the solid waste fee in a bimonthly water bill, and charges $5.64 per week for a 60-gallon cart and $7.05 per week for a 90-gallon cart.

In Roanoke, a solid waste fee is just one option being considered to balance the budget. City leaders hope to avoid layoffs and other budget cuts that could hurt city employees. The city  plans to have working meetings about the budget and the possibility of charging a solid waste fee leading up to a public meeting about the budget on April 27, when it will consider options for closing the budget gap.

TAGS: Residential
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