Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Garbage fees are costly shell game


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Oct 13, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Garbage fees are costly shell game

City residents will pay more in proposed budget

Good news, my fellow residents of Waukesha! We don’t have to drink their water to become more like Milwaukee. We can just drink the Kool-Aid.

The first budget since the reign of Luther the Terrible is now out and it has Mayor Jeff Scrima’s endorsement. Acting City Administrator Steve Crandell has proposed a budget that does not raise the property tax levy.

What a change from last year when City Administrator Lori Luther produced a budget that increased taxes on the median home in Waukesha a shocking 90 cents. Mayor Jeff Scrima then threatened to throw the whole budget process into chaos by announcing that he wanted no increase in the tax levy, even if he had to haphazardly cut city bus routes to do it.

Finally, Common Council President Paul Ybarra and Alderman Joe Pieper rode to everyone’s rescue by figuring out another way to meet the mayor’s goal while the mayor fidgeted in his chair. Everyone took the 90 cents they saved, bought a candy bar, and went home happy.

It was good theater but not a great budgeting process.

This time, the mayor appears to be more involved up front in the process and we’re getting a zero increase in the tax levy. So far, so good.

Before we start strewing Main Street with flowers and singing Scrima’s praises, did I mention the $136? You know, the new $136 garbage collection fees you are going to have to pay the city separate from your tax bill. The additional $136 you are going to have to pay the mayor neglected to mention in his Saturday op-ed piece saying what a great mayor he is. The additional $136 you will have to pay because he is keeping the costs of home ownership in Waukesha down.

Bereft of adult supervision, Scrima and Crandell are proposing a dishonest accounting gimmick to avoid using the word “taxes” for what you are going to pay additionally for a basic city service. Most homeowners won’t get to opt of the garbage collection services. You can’t say, “I choose not to dispose.” To you it will be just as if a new tax was imposed.

Because Crandell and Scrima avoid the word “tax” you even get the additional benefit of losing the deductibility on your federal taxes. The feds get more money, the city gets more money, and you don’t have a tax increase. Everyone’s a winner. Just don’t plan on using your mortgage escrow account to cover the fees, either.

A few landlords will get hit by the new tax, sorry, “fees.” Those that have homes and duplexes as rental properties that use city garbage collection will be hit by the fees, and they will pass them along to the tenants.

The imposition of garbage collection fees will have one benefit that you would have thought the mayor might have wanted to mention. Perhaps he was just being modest. Large multifamily developments, like those developed by Scrima’s family, that do not use city garbage collection will not have to pay the new garbage collection fees.

No wonder it sounded like such a good idea to Scrima. Never mind the disproportionate use of other city services those residences often require. At least those properties, like the ones Scrima supposedly developed before he was mayor, won’t have to pay more in property taxes.

I’m sure the mayor’s dwindling band of die-hard supporters will rush to embrace the new garbage collection fees. They demanded no increase in taxes last year, and thanks to Scrima we won’t have a tax increase this year. Just fees!

If the Common Council passes the budget as is, think of the precedent it sets. We can become even more like the city of Milwaukee by imposing a snow removal fee and a streetlight fee. We can even be innovators and invent our own fees, all without raising our taxes.

There is one more benefit to the proposed city budget. Now is the time for a member or members of the Common Council to stand up and demonstrate true fiscal leadership and propose an alternative to the Scrimaendorsed budget. The 2013 mayoral election begins now.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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