more inescapable fees?

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 02/05/2009 - 11:42.

Here you go: another example of how the government and its agencies don't seem to want to reward good behavior but will instead lump us all together: From Ted Strickland's budget balancing proposal. Fees instead of taxes.

I originally thought to put this in the discussion of NEORSD and it's stormwater program fee increases, but reconsidered. Still, it's all about a little fee increase here and a little fee increase there.

"Under the proposed budget, the fee for dumping trash will increase from $3.50 per ton to $4.75, collected at landfills and waste-transfer stations.

Most Cuyahoga County cities collect residents' trash without a separate bill.

Some, such as Bay Village, will try to absorb the anticipated $11,500 hike into its budget, which is still paid for by taxes. Others will consider charging residents. In cities where haulers bill residents directly, the increased fee could pass completely to the customer.

Olmsted Falls Mayor Robert Blomquist doesn't like fees for basic services.

"If it's a user fee for something that's optional . . . that doesn't bother me. That's my choice," Blomquist said. "When you attach a fee this way, you're doing things people can't escape. They're either going to pay it directly . . . or it will be consuming larger portions of municipal government budgets to cover the state's backside."

Let's see how this works - let's take it to the individual level. Four people live in my home. We recycle and compost. Each week (sometimes every other week), we put a grocery size bag of garbage out on the treelawn for pick up. We are not charged for this. When I did a kitchen restoration project I paid the city $35 to pick up and dispose of several boxes of plaster and lathe. OK. My neighbor (who has 4 people living in their home) routinely puts out 4 large garbage bags of trash each week - they apparently do not recycle or compost. So unless the city is going to charge personal property tipping fees, I will pay for the fact that my neighbor can't be bothered to take advantage of the city's recycling program nor can s/he figure out how to pile kitchen waste in a heap and reuse it to improve the soil in her/his yard (instead he pours chemicals on his grass).

Can city's reduce their overall tipping fees through recycling and composting?  Toronto is managing to do that. In Toronto, they will pick up your compost (including animal waste which, if Ohioans do pick it up, they have little choice but to put it, plastic wrapped into their garbage - landfills must be brimming with this organic waste).

So maybe Strickland's program will drive cities to find more efficient ways to work around these fees. Maybe not. Cities and block clubs and community development groups can get the word out - sort or pay. This might drive a more sustainable agenda. But for now it is not quite like the alcohol and tobacco tax. I can choose to pay the increased tax if I purchase tobacco or alcohol; you may choose to avoid those purchases. With these garbage collection fees, we will be paying for our neighbor's disposal habits.

Education is key. Toronto does a good job. And maybe green is the new measure of keeping up with the Joneses. A stroll along my neighborhood streets on garbage pick up day can be telling. It can tell which households recycle and compost and which don't. We're facing an inconvenient truth - the truth that our wasteful ways have caught up with us is becoming localized - right down to your quarter acre or smaller.

Could restaurants recycle or is it too big an imposition? Think of all the bottles and cans that go into landfills from restaurants that do not recycle - think of all the food waste that goes with those bottle and cans. If a small or large business owner had an incentive to reduce his/her tipping fees, would it drive a more responsible sorting process? I don't know. But massive quantities of kitchen waste and animal waste and yard waste is being diverted to landfills - it's being thrown AWAY. Unfortunately, away is right here. (We're not sending it into orbit yet as far as I know.) Can it be reused, recycled and improve our soil, water and air quality. Yes, it can. Can we sort and compost and recycle? Yes, we can. Would it reduce our out of pocket expense - remains to be seen.If my municipality could reduce fees because a restaurant or business reduced its contribution to the waste stream, would I ask about their efforts to reduce? You betcha.

Plenty of states are toying with raising fees to offset the feeble economy, said the Tax Foundation's Barro. But fees are designed only to recoup the cost of a service -- not to plug holes in state budgets.

I have no problem with paying for the costs of recycling and composting and landfills, but I do have a problem with paying for my neighbor's laziness.

In Ohio's proposed budget, some fees, such as a livestock license renewal, have increased five-fold. But Barro said it's unlikely the administrative cost has changed so drastically.

"Often politicians try to push fees up well beyond the actual cost," he said. "It looks to me like they're looking at 'Where can we raise more revenue?' rather than 'How much does it cost?' "

Sounds like ODOT. Instead of looking at what we have and what we can do with what we have, will we simply continue to ask for more? 

The $5.75 increase on vehicle registration fees (which already jumped $11 to $34.50 in 2003) and the $6 increase on driver histories will funnel money to the Department of Public Safety, which includes the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the State Highway Patrol, said department spokesman Thomas Hunter. The increases mean the department will no longer rely on the state's general revenue fund.

Well then - this could drive reductions in automobile ownership, so it needs to come with better public transportation options.  ODOT, Strickland... what's your plan? Equity planning or keep 'em in their cars? If I didn't need a car, I could escape this fee increase. But in Cleveland, where public transportation options are poor and underfunded, where bicycle lanes are largely nonexistent, a car is how we get to where we need to go. 

The fees are in line with what other states that border Ohio charge, Hunter said.

At the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources, the increased garbage fees will support air and water programs, spokeswoman Melissa Fazekaz said.

Let us help. Please show individuals what they can do to lend a hand on air and water programs - we can help. Remember how we stopped throwing trash out of car windows when it was brought to our attention? Need some cash quick? Institute a plastic bag tax. Feed two birds with one seed.

Parma Heights Mayor Martin Zanotti, president of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association, understands the need for fees, since Ohioans won't support a tax increase. But, he said, it means everyone will pay a little more.

A little more - sounds like the little more we pay for Gateway, Brown's Stadium, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, medcon. A little more sewer, a little more gas, a little more electricity, a little more this and little more that - it's beginning to add up. We can cut back on some purchases, but some things we have become reliant on - heat, light, water, shelter, food. Though the discussion around our dinner table has turned to real cost savings - no electricity except for hospitals and emergency services on Tuesday... planned blackouts? Could we all use a break - a real shabbat?

"It's tough out here right now," he said. "The big dog can charge the little dog a little more when the little dog doesn't have a say in it."

Even if it means that block clubs and city wards and municipalities have to come together to reduce fees (if it cannot come all the way down to you and your neighbor), what ways does the little dog have to escape the big dog's menacing? Must we all just assume a submissive posture? Or could we wag our tails in a friendly greeting gesture  and walk on by? Can the little dog have a say? Dogs are pack animals - we may have to behave as packs saying, "In XXX municipality, we see your fees and we choose to avoid them by reducing our need of that service. Thanks for thinking of us... have a nice day."

Short of investing in insulation, solar panels or geothermal, driving plug-in hybrids, choosing to live in transit oriented developed and walkable neighborhoods, to compost and recycle, divert roofwater and grow food in our yards or side lots or community gardens, what can we do to help? 

Again I remain thinking of the little dogs - the ones that make up scale. I mean, if I do this to reduce my footprint, it has little impact, but if we all do it it could have a big impact.

Are we comfortable letting big dogs make all the decisions - is this what is called representative democracy? "Here, I'll vote for you and you decide for me." Is that how it works? Could we offer to lend a hand? More often that not we can't or don't. We have not been invited to the table. A voice and  choice - I thought that's what democracy entailed. Maybe not.

Now that an increasing number of Americans have had their noses forcibly lifted from the grindstone through lay-offs, maybe we can look around for ways to assist with the problems we face. Not unless we're allowed to do so however. Obama says, "yes we can". Can we?

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