At the April 22nd Davidson Town Board work session, there was a lengthy discussion on the town budget. As part of the ongoing conversation, commissioners pondered hefty increases to Davidson's already highest in the area fees. If passed, these fee increases would bring Davidson's solid waste charges to an even $250/year.
Davidson's Board is contemplating raising the town's solid waste fee $17/household to add weekly pickup of recycling. That's up from the bi-weekly service we have now. Mayor Woods cited receiving a few emails from residents requesting it, but other than that there appears to be no real justification for the increase.
It's a classic example of an idea that feels good on paper, but in reality will do little to nothing for the average Davidson household. Moreover, the facts available to the town at this point simply do not support the need for this change.
As you may remember, a couple of years ago the town switched from the small 18-gallon recycling bins with weekly pickup to the large 96-gallon rolling bins with pickup every other week. This change took place October 1st in 2012. The town also installed $22,000 worth of trash and recycling duobins on Main Street in late 2012. Combined one might expect the overall % of solid waste that is recycled to increase. Somewhat surprisingly, that was not the case in the year these changes took place.
The below graph is the year over year recycling percentages of solid waste provided by town Public Works Manger, Doug Wright. The fiscal year runs from July 1st to June 30th. The 96-gallon bins were in place for 3/4 of the 2013 fiscal year and the duobins for about 1/2. However, as you can see the percentage of waste recycled in 2013 actually dropped year over year.
Also, as anecdotal evidence that increased recycling pickup is not needed for the vast majority of Davidson households, one only has to look at the bins next time it's pickup day. The red bins rarely have the tops lifted at all. The vast majority of bins are not overflowing - not even close.
The Town should wait on any fee increase for expanded recycling pickup until the data shows a clear need by solidly increasing recycling percentages. Currently, that's not the case, but new data should come out before the new budget is passed in June. This should be a purely data driven decision, not a decision driven by a few emails.
The other solid waste fee increase being discussed has to do with leaf pickup. Back before the days of Mi-Connection and its drain on town coffers, the town picked up leaves in the fall funded out of residents' property taxes. That ended in 2010 - the same fiscal year the Mi-C subsidies exploded.
Now, the town is discussing implementing a $32/household increase to the solid waste fee to reinstitute that service. While people may like the idea of the leaf service and for many long-time residents it is definitely missed, a solid waste fee is the wrong mechanism for funding this. Unlike household waste where there is not a huge difference in the amount of trash or recycling generated by a large house versus a small house, leaves are a different matter. Common sense says large houses with large lots and more mature trees generate more leaves. Small houses or houses with few mature trees generate fewer leaves.
The use/need for a leaf service is not evenly distributed, but implementing a household fee distributes the cost evenly. It is a regressive tax and something that should be avoided. If the town wants to proceed with purchasing new equipment to support this service, it should be included in an updated CIP and paid for out of property taxes, not fees.
For both of these fees, it was mentioned that the Homestead Exemption for qualified elderly and low income residents exempts homeowners from paying. In theory, that would reduce the regressive nature of these fee increases. The same applies to owners of homes in Davidson's Affordable Housing program - they are also exempt. However, that has a minimal impact overall. According to the town, as of 2012, there were only 26 households in Davidson that had the Homestead Exemption. Combined with the Affordable Housing numbers that makes totals only about 100 or so households that would be exempted from these fee increases. That's out of about 3400 households in town.
For a town that supposedly prides itself on doing things to improve affordability, increasing unnecessary and regressive fees is not something commissioners should be doing.
The public hearing for this years budget is this coming Tuesday, May 13th at the Board's 6pm regular meeting.
Update: Good news! The latest published proposed fee schedule shows no increase for single family homes. There is in fact a good decrease for multi-family homes. Good news all around!