Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Garbage fee pure rubbish


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Oct 20, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A    

Garbage fee pure rubbish

Fee just a tax in disguise

Welcome to the parade of widows and orphans. On Tuesday, we learned that the proposed garbage fee is not about garbage collection in the city, but saving the children of Waukesha from excessive library fines.

In case you missed it on Tuesday, we learned that unless Waukesha homeowners are charged a $136 garbage collection fee, the fines on overdue children’s books will go from five cents to 25 cents per day.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid any library fine is to return a book on time (a skill, I admit, I’m not terribly good at myself). Remember to return Fancy Nancy at the due date and, voilà, no fines for your little street urchin. No city subsidy .

But there’s a greater irony in trying to save the poor, oppressed rug rats from spending an extra quarter. If the point of the fee is to only charge those that are using a city service the cost of that service, why is the garbage fee subsidizing the library?

That is the point interim City Administrator Steve Crandell was trying to make last week at the first budget committee meeting on the proposed city budget. He asked the committee to consider the garbage collection fee as quickly as possible because the money generated props up the rest of the proposed budget.

The garbage collection fee is not about garbage collection, but about increasing your tax bill while pretending that the city is not raising taxes. If the garbage collection fee is not collected, it doesn’t mean the garbage won’t get collected. It means the city has to make a cut somewhere else in the budget.

Freeman photo

Freeman photo

Maybe we’ll only have two leaf collections instead of three. Maybe the city won’t hire an attorney to defend the landmark designation placed on an old gas station because it looks like a leftover movie set from “Heidi.” Maybe the city will finally use the county’s 911 dispatch center instead of running a redundant operation.

We might even find those “efficiencies” Mayor Jeff Scrima promised to find when he ran for the office. For someone who thought he would find so many after he was elected, Scrima certainly gave up easily when he announced recently there were no more cuts in government left to find.

Turns out that our mayor has learned the hard way that running a city is tougher that it looks, especially when his adult supervision has left for Peoria. Perhaps the mayor should propose taking another pay cut.

Given the failures of imagination and a promise of not raising the property tax levy, what to do? What to do?

Scrima was already predisposed toward creating a garbage fee. The family business is developing larger residential properties that don’t benefit from city garbage collection.

But for all of Scrima’s protests that this is about “equity,” let us not forget that this is not about property taxes going down for condominium owners. There is no corresponding tax cut to go with the garbage collection fee. Their taxes will remain the same.

If this was truly about equity then the mayor could certainly find other user fees to increase, starting with the library. At least they would be more honest.

On the other hand, if the garbage fee sets the precedent, expect more fees to come.

But this isn’t about equity, or even the distant, vague promise of ecological warfare via higher fees in the future depending on how much garbage you will throw away. This is about generating more money while allowing Scrima to claim that the property tax levy is remaining the same.

The fee is mandatory, even inescapable. The only difference between the fee and a tax increase is that the tax is deductible on an itemized federal tax return.

Scrima couldn’t help himself when he said the fee meant that the city portion of the tax bill would not be going up. George Orwell would laugh at the obvious lie.

A couple of aldermen, Duane Paulson and Andy Reiland, were swift to point this out at the first Finance Committee meeting. When the Finance Committee convenes again this evening, more aldermen should follow their examples and oppose the fee.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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