The Way I See It: Garbage Bills Pile Up

Categories:      Opinion    News & Politics
Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 at 9:29 AM

Close to a quarter of a century ago, the city of Erie started charging for garbage pickup. At the time, residents paid $48 annually.

Today, those living within Erie’s city limits pay that much every quarter – that is, until now.

City Council approved the city's 2014 budget back in December. As a result, city residents will now see garbage fees increase from an average of $48 every three months, or $192 per year, to $55 every quarter, or $220 per year.

Initially, there was a “sunset provision” as part of City Council’s budget that said those fees would only be valid through 2014 and would have to go through a vote to keep the increase; otherwise, the charges would roll back to last year’s dues. Mayor Joe Sinnott went on to veto the “sunset provision” as he stated it wasn’t sound budgeting practice, and although some members of City Council tried to override the veto, those councilmembers were ultimately defeated in a 4-3 vote.

What this means is that the garbage increases will now go into effect beyond 2014, without a separate vote needed by City Council to approve them beyond this year.

When the charges for garbage pickup first began, the city included the garbage fee in the same billing cycle with water and sewer bills. However, those bills became separate long before Sinnott’s administration took office. It was after the separation when major delinquencies started to occur – most likely because customers didn’t feel as compelled to pay them, because as they found, if you don’t pay your water bill, your water gets shut off, but that same consequence doesn’t happen for garbage pickup.

In fact – and with all due respect – during his tenure on City Council, Mario Bagnoni, in staunch opposition to the initial proposed garbage fee, would often tell his constituents to not pay their bills because there was nothing that the city could do about it anyway. Read: An elected official was telling citizens to not pay their bills.

Here’s something else to consider: although there’s a drastic increase in fees from inception to today, the fees have not been raised in four years, when we all know the cost of business goes up annually. So, even if nobody was on that list of delinquencies, the fact that fees haven’t been raised in four years is notable Most importantly, though, isn’t the fee increase – but rather the residents that are not paying their bills. The list of garbage delinquencies (over $100) contains close to 3,600 names on 88 pages, including a former Erie City Council member, a former city school board member, and a number of landlords. Not to mention, it was not so long ago that one of our current county council members was on this list. We entrust these people to not only govern on our behalf but also expect them to be the most responsible citizens, the pillars of our society – and serve as our representatives.

Perhaps sadder, though, is that this issue isn’t unique to Erie. This is everywhere. In my research, I found a number of cities and states that not only have a garbage delinquency problem, but also have local officials on their list of unpaid delinquents.

And all of that aside, what about the rest of the 3,600 citizen on the list? I know in life we all go through trying financial times, but there are individuals on this list who haven’t paid their bill in ten years. A whole decade.

Why – you might ask – haven’t these people picked up the phone or stopped into the Erie Water Works office to setup a payment plan since such a thing is available. And you’re right to ask that since it takes a village, folks – and not just to raise a child, but to keep us moving forward. To grow and to succeed.

The fact is, there really isn’t much the city can do about this. They can’t stop collecting trash because people won’t pay their garbage bills to the authority. Sure, they can put a lien on someone’s property, but they can only collect money when the property sells. And the “sunset provision” was never going to work in the first place.

They could go back to putting all the bills into one lump sum and maybe that would drive people to pay for fear of being delinquent in areas they feel are more important than trash. But until they do anything, for the love of all things Erie, those of you who are on that list – please set up a payment plan and pay something, pay anything.

It’s called being responsible – whether you’re an elected official or not.

The city does have the entire list on their website. And it’s for all to see. It’s a start, because it’s a shame tactic and it’s because their immediate options are limited.

So, for all those curious, the current list of all delinquent accounts greater than $100, is now posted on the city's website, www.erie.pa.us.

Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Email me at rStyn@ErieReader.com, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn. 

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