Above the fold on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal readers were alerted to a newly proposed fee for their curbside recycling pickup. Over the past two weeks, I have been pressing against this issue, not because of the estimated cost of $50.00 per year for homeowners, but because basic city services should already be paid for by property taxes.
This morning the newspaper explained what has been chatted about over neighborhood fences and listserves around the city. Some of those voices are found in this post.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and three council members proposed the ordinance adding the charge, recommended in the 2022 budget approved by the council in November.
The Finance Committee voted 4-1 with one member absent to endorse the fee, estimated at about $4.10 per month, or about $50 annually per household. The charge would generate about $1.5 million in its first half year for the city’s $360.3 million operating budget. In its first full year, in 2023, it is estimated to generate $3 million.
Some have labeled the idea as regressive taxation but one city resident I heard from simply nailed it best by calling the “Resource Recovery Special Charge” as being Orwellian-named.
The mayor and alders should not need to be told that the basics of city government, be it trash, fire, police, and street maintenance, are considered to be covered by our tax payments. No add-on fees for the basics! Before we build public markets and do things that are perhaps nice to have, we need to make sure that the basics of city living are financed and ready to operate.
So, what’s next? Charging for trash pick-up? After all, not everyone gets trash pick-up (e.g., commercial properties, apartment buildings). Once upon a time, these charges for the public good were paid for by tax dollars.
I have received a number of comments in emails about this matter, especially after I posted twice on Next Door. There is a lively crowd of residents on that website who seemed genuinely interested in more information about this new fee. Such fees, it should be noted, are politically useful so those in local government can then claim they have kept property taxes lower.
But the emails which landed in my box–most of which also were sent by the writers to the Finance Committee or elected officials, and are now available to the public, did not mince any words with how they felt. I offer three of them to underscore the energy this fee has generated.
From Rick Soletski , who made a point to city alders in his letter that was echoed by the front page of the newspaper story today.
If the recycling program is not a basic service, but a nicety, let us know. Release the mandatory requirement and let those willing to pay another tax keep their green bins and participate and be billed.
If it is a basic service and a requirement to recycle, then it should be covered by our already high property taxes. By the way, my household recycles religiously.
Finally, you know very well that this is a shell game. When you raise this tax, you won’t lower our other taxes. It will backfill other city spending. Much like you did with the wheel tax when the council and mayor did not want to do the hard work to make revenues balance spending. Instead, raise a new tax dedicated to transportation, and take that money to spend on something else.
Please note the line beneath the headline about budget gap filling.
Dan Young wrote numerous letters, but this one was sent to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway who is the lead sponsor of the fee, and pressed the issue of basic services.
Your argument for the tax, as stated in the proposal is that, “Over time, the City’s costs to operate its recycling program, including the costs of collecting, sorting and recycling waste, have increased. It is reasonable that all or a portion of the costs incurred to provide this service be recovered from those using the service, rather than all taxpayers in the City.” Yes, no doubt the costs have increased. As we know, the cost of everything has been increasing, including OUR PROPERTY TAXES. And, property tax payers expect and should get basic services for those increasing property taxes and not be charged an additional tax. Basic services serve the common good, as do our schools, when they are not otherwise failing.
Tracy Doreen Dietzel wrote the Finance Committee about her reasons for opposing the new fee, but strongly argued for the need to have a recycling program that is structured with more community input.
I have lived in Madison long enough to pay property taxes in total over the years an amount more than double the cost of what I paid for my house. I have told people for many years that while we have some of the highest taxes in the country, at least our leaders have had the wisdom to include basic services without added fees. Perhaps you are needing some counsel from citizens to not lose that wisdom.
Please consider that in adding fees without taking the opportunity to engage in rigorous discussion with community, you may well miss more effective alternatives to this proposal.
People on fixed incomes struggling to remain in their beloved community, people who reuse, upcycle and do not buy single use plastics or who do not create waste. Will they pay the same as someone who clogs up recycling with wishcycling?
The placement of the news story about the new fee on the front page will allow for a greater conversation in our city about this matter. It will now make it far harder for alders to not issue a statement about the issue or send glib comments to their constituents. I suspect all of a sudden the city is now paying attention.
And so it goes.