Amy Peck said she would not support a fee associated with garbage and recycling services provided by the City of Houston, even if the city and its residents were on solid financial footing.
During a pandemic that has crushed the economy both locally and beyond, one of the newest members of the Houston City Council said such a fee should not even be considered. Houstonians already pay for garbage and recycling services as part of their taxes.
“People are hurting now,” said Peck, the council member for District A. “I can’t envision ever supporting it, but now is definitely not the right time.”
A monthly fee of $1.14 per residential household, to “lease” garbage and recycling bins from the city, was proposed at last week’s city council meeting and tabled until this week. Council members voted Wednesday to again delay the item, which will be revisited next week after they further study ways to boost revenue and limit expenses while preparing a city budget that is “already woefully behind,” according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
A spokesperson for Turner said in an email that the proposed fee is needed by the Solid Waste Management Department, which has seen a 10 percent increase in residential customers since 2006, to “keep containers in stock.” According to the agenda item, the fee would be included in water bills beginning July 1 and help cover the cost of new bins, maintenance to existing bins and personnel to provide pickup services.
The mayor’s spokesperson said there are approximately 390,000 garbage and recycling customers within the city limits – who have been issued a total of 780,000 bins – and the fee would generate roughly $5.3 million in annual revenue for the city. Turner has said the city must make significant cuts in order to balance its next budget in the wake of financial shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Per city ordinance, according to the mayor’s office, the Solid Waste Management Department collects disposables from its bins only and residents are not allowed to use their own bins as part of the city’s pickup service.
“As unfortunate as the timing of this agenda item is, I support the proposed container fee,” District H council member Karla Cisneros said in an emailed statement. “Paying for garbage and recycling cans is an essential expense that must be responsibly addressed. It seems most fair that the users of the garbage containers are the ones who should carry that cost.”
A spokesperson for District C council member Abbie Kamin, who tabled the item last week to allow an opportunity for community feedback, did not respond when asked if Kamin supported or opposed the item. But the spokesperson said Kamin shared the proposal with super neighborhood groups in District C, which includes the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, and included it in a newsletter that was distributed to more than 4,000 residents.
According to Kamin’s office, it has received more emails in support of the proposed fee than against it.
“I’m OK with it,” area resident Beth Barron wrote in response to a Facebook post seeking community input. “That is nothing per month to help the city.”
Some others who responded to The Leader’s inquiry also said they were in favor of a fee, while many voiced their opposition. Some wrote that the city should provide new bins, or increase the frequency of its pickups, if a monthly fee is assessed.
Some area residents said they are against the idea altogether. Peck said all but one of the 50 or so constituents who have contacted her office about the issue have been opposed to it.
“Stick it to the homeowners as usual,” Trudy Nowak wrote on Facebook. “Don’t we already pay enough in taxes for them to pick up our trash and recycling without adding a new, separate fee?”
When she voiced her opposition at last week’s council meeting, Peck said she was asked by Turner to offer suggestions on how the city could increase revenue while eliminating expenses. She responded by outlining a list of potential measures in a Monday letter addressed to the mayor and made public, also asking Turner to release a proposed budget that details expenditures by department so it can be vetted by council members.
Among Peck’s suggestions are for the city to lease vehicles instead of purchasing them, to merge its library system with that of Harris County and to suspend purchases of clothing and food items that were budgeted at a total expense of nearly $1.7 million for the fiscal year 2020. Peck also said the city should temporarily suspend its Hire Houston Youth program, which provides part-time summer jobs at a cost of more than $1.2 million.
“He’s trying to find other ways to fill the coffers of the city,” Peck said of Turner. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be really rough this next year. I definitely understand that.
“It’s basically the principle of the matter for me. Every time we’re in a financial situation, I don’t want the go-to thing to be increasing fees and charging more.”