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Council axes proposal to impose garbage fee in Monroeville

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007

Monroeville doesn't have a Plan B for raising taxes or fees now that a proposed garbage fee is dead, Manager Marshall Bond said.

Council approved a budget Dec. 11 that sticks with the original proposal for spending a third of the municipality's reserves to plug a $2.2 million deficit. During budget workshops earlier this year, council came up with an alternate plan of charging $15 a month for residential garbage collection.

While the sparsely attended workshops were open to the public, they weren't televised, and the garbage fee never was discussed at a regular, televised council meeting until it came up for a final vote.

Facing a standing-room-only audience, council members axed the garbage fee, which would have raised about $1.5 million for Monroeville.

Bond agreed Monroeville government should have done a better job of notifying the public about the proposal, but he doesn't blame the lack of publicity on the fee's demise.

Council dropped the proposal mostly because the municipality still has about $6 million in its reserves. Even after spending about $2 million to balance next year's budget, the reserve still will be healthy, Bond said.

For the same reason, council members aren't looking for another tax or fee they can impose or raise this year to offset the gap between spending and revenues, he said. "Why would you ask people for money you don't need this year?" Bond asked.

Public policy experts generally recommend that municipalities maintain reserves equal to between 5 percent and 15 percent of their total budgets. With a $30 million spending plan, Monroeville's target reserve is $1.5 million to $4.5 million.

Until the reserve falls into that range, selling any kind of tax or fee increase is politically difficult, Bond said.

During the Dec. 11 meeting, council member Dave Kucherer said the municipality needs to act soon because it's headed into bankruptcy. At current spending and revenue levels, the reserve will be exhausted in two years. The gap between revenues and spending has increased in the past three years from $400,000 to $2.1 million, he said.

"The only thing growing in Monroeville now is our expenses," Kucherer said.

Bond said Monroeville charged a garbage fee in the 1960s, but dropped it when federal revenue-sharing flooded local governments with dollars in the 1970s.

"We were a booming, corporate town, with white-collar, engineering, high-paying jobs," Bond said of the 1980s, when the government largesse dried up.

Since then, several of the research centers have closed or are moving to other communities, and Monroeville's population is shifting toward retirees. The municipality hasn't raised its property tax since 1991.

Kucherer said the trends make either tax and fee increases or service cuts inevitable.

"No one is going to like what we're going to have to do," he said.

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