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Trash the Trash Tax

Trashing the tax trash idea.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake is proposing charging Baltimore City residents a "fee" for trash collection.  The idea is that if we have to start paying a "fee" to have our trash collected that somehow this will enable the city to reduce the property tax and thus attract more people to move here.

The assumption is that somehow we have been getting our trash collected for free all these years.  Who would have thunk it?

The fact is that Baltimore City residents pay for their services through property taxes, local taxes, and a whole lot of other "fees" that can be found on our telephone, cable, and water bills.  

So let's get this notion that we have been getting some kind of bargain on trash collection out of the way right now.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Mayor said many areas surrounding the city have fees for trash collection that are not part of their property taxes.

Well, that is not entirely accurate.

I checked with Howard and Anne Arundel counties and while both counties do charge separately for trash collection, they both include the fees on the yearly property tax statements.

You can call it a "fee" or a "tax," but either way, there it is on the bill. 

Also, residents in Anne Arundel County can opt-out of having the county collect their trash, if a majority of residents in a community agree.

Is the Mayor going to seriously propose that city residents can opt-out of trash collection?  I mean, some people apparently already do opt-out, but will this be a city policy?

But the most glaring problem with the Mayor's plan is that Baltimore City trash collectors are union city employees (AFSCME Local Council 67).  Both Howard and Anne Arundel counties contract their trash collection out.  (I could not get a definitive answer on whether the actual sanitation workers are county employees or union, but I suspect not.)

Again, does Mayor Rawlings-Blake really think the city can compete with the surrounding areas on the cost to collecting trash while keeping the sanitation workers on as city employees at union wages?

I doubt it can be done.

And, an even more intriguing question is, will Mayor Rawlings-Blake actually jettison AFSCME Local Council 67, who supported her during her mayoral campaign and contract out the city trash collection?  Again, I think not (and I hope not).

The fact is that in order for Baltimore City to seriously compete with the surrounding counties we would have to fire all the sanitation workers who collect our trash and contract the services out.  Otherwise I don't see how adding a fee for a service we already pay for in taxes is going to lower those said taxes.  It just isn't logical.

So, I am calling this proposed "fee" what is really is - a Trash Tax.

I also have my doubts that we'll actually see property taxes reduced based on the Trash Tax.  And, remember, once the Trash Tax is imposed, they can (and will) raise it.

The only way I will be sold on this idea is if our property tax is reduced immediately and in proportion to whatever the Trash tax is.

I do have one alternative the mayor hasn't mentioned.  Instead of adding a new Trash Tax, or fee, or whatever you want to call it, why not just make it a goal to lower property taxes by, say, thirty cents over ten years, instead of the proposed fifty cents?  Either way, the taxes and fees city residents pay will still be astronomically higher than the surrounding areas and they will continue to sufficiently keep people moving into other jurisdiction other than Baltimore City.

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Sean Tully February 14, 2013 at 10:16 PM
I wish I could edit the typos. I was in a rush on this as I have to go out. Also, edit: "Otherwise I don't see how adding a fee for a service we already pay for in taxes is going to lower those said taxes. It just isn't logical." It should read: "Otherwise I don't see how exchanging a fee for a service we already pay for in taxes is going to lower the total cost of services. It just isn't logical.
dave February 15, 2013 at 12:17 PM
it would give better ability for renters to py for trash collection rather than just property owners....problem is there aren't enough owners
Able Baker February 15, 2013 at 02:48 PM
The reasoning is pretty simple. Nonprofits pay no property tax despite using city services. You can charge fees to a nonprofit for services the city provides, but only charging nonprofits would likely be unconstitutional. Calling it a fee rather than a tax allows you to charge people who previously did not pay. Increased revenues allow you to reduce property taxes, or you can credit property tax payers with the trash fee. You don't have to allow people to opt out. You can't opt out of water service and still legally live in your house. Trash would be similar. You generally can't opt out of city services, wherever you live. It's only when you get into unincorporated areas of the County where you can. You're correct that city trash collectors are unionized, but you're incorrect that they're highly paid. Most trash collectors in Baltimore make ~$15/hr. Source: https://data.baltimorecity.gov/Financial/Baltimore-City-Employee-Salaries-FY2012/7ymi-bvp3 (see Solid Waste) City workers make *significantly* less than either their private industry counterparts or workers in adjacent counties. Lowering the property tax is a noble goal, but property taxes are about 50% of the city's revenue. Where do you propose those cuts should come from?
Steve J. February 15, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Presumably, property owners are passing the property tax on to renters through the rent. The lowering of the property tax and imposition of a "trash collection fee" would be a change from an at least somewhat progressive tax (there's a rough relation between property value and income) to a flat tax, thus increasing regressivity of the tax system. Also, would the trash fee be deductible from federal income tax, as the property tax is?
Daniel Ewald February 15, 2013 at 04:51 PM
A trash fee could motivate more people to recycle. When I grew up in Aberdeen, they had free pick up for recyclables, and charged $.80-.40 for trash bags. Howard County has also had success in getting more people to recycle and compost while reducing their trash pickup and costs.
Baltimore Matt February 16, 2013 at 02:12 AM
I can support a fee if they allow me to choose my own trash hauler and why not. If the city is cheaper, I will choose the city and if a guy with a truck is cheaper, I will go with him. We have choices with other things...electric suppliers, long distance telephone, internet suppliers, and even the repair of our sidewalks (yes, you can choose to have the city or a private contractor replace your sidewalk if you are cited). Let the market decide who will haul our trash.
Sean Tully February 16, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Well, here I will agree with Able Baker. Trash collection is paid, at least in part, I would think, through property taxes, which the owners of the rental units pay (unless they are in on the new tax break for building new rentals).
Sean Tully February 16, 2013 at 05:16 PM
Steven, I am not clear on what you are saying about the regressive tax or if you are making an argument for or against the Trash Tax. In any event, I believe the Trash Tax will shift the burden of government onto those at the bottom scale. Is that what you are saying too?
Sean Tully February 16, 2013 at 05:18 PM
Daniel, I will eat my hat if Baltimore has free recycling pickup under the Mayor's plan. Oh, she may say it is free, but you can bet your bottom dollar you will pay for it with the regular trash pickup tax.
Sean Tully February 16, 2013 at 05:19 PM
Matt, is isn't going to happen like that. This will be a forced fee (otherwise known as a tax) for a service we are already paying for (othewise known as a shell game).
Able Baker February 20, 2013 at 07:18 PM
1. It's possible it is constitutional. My feeling is that it isn't, but it's uncharted territory that cities are just now exploring. 2. So you're not saying that we would have to allow people to opt out, but that we should let people opt out? Got it. Maybe we should do that with all taxes. 3. Sorry, you implied that they're highly paid. You'll have to prove to me that city workers are more highly paid than county or private workers. 4. I didn't say we would have to make up 50% of the budget. 50% of our budget is directly from property taxes. Any cut in property taxes without an equivalent cut in services will lead to a deficit. Attracting new citizens is a laudable idea, but it ignores the short term fiscal reality.
Able Baker February 20, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Free recycling makes sense, from the City's perspective. Recyclables can be resold to defray costs. Municipal waste can't.
Sean Tully February 21, 2013 at 12:58 AM
Able: 1. If we can exempt non-profits from paying for their trash collection through property taxes, I don't see why charging them for trash collection would be unconstitutional. But the city should make them take it to court and find out. 2. I said "Is the Mayor going to seriously propose that city residents can opt-out of trash collection?" I think that implies that of course she isn't going to let anyone opt-out (and she shouldn't). I think my point is pretty clear, but, here it is again: we already pay for trash collection through taxes so if the mayor is going to charge us a fee then it seems that she should also let us opt-out, which would be ridiculous in a city this size. 3. I do not imply city trash collectors are highly paid. I state clearly that "...does Mayor Rawlings-Blake really think the city can compete with the surrounding areas on the cost to collecting trash while keeping the sanitation workers on as city employees at union wages?" That clearly means that our trash collectors are union scale. Now, I do imply that they are paid more than non-union trash collectorsin AA and HoCo. I will look into the pay scales. 4. Not sure we have a major difference here so I'll let that one go by.
Sean Tully February 21, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Able, recycling is not free. We pay for it through our current taxes.
Christian February 21, 2013 at 07:59 PM
I think that if the city really only picked up what it was legally obligated to, that the savings there alone would be significant to the point that the talk about a trash tax would be moot. Throughout the city, there are multiple dwellings that enjoy the services of trash pick up paid by the tax payers of this city. Places that should have dumpsters do not and as a result trucks are picking up from businesses throughout the city. Monitor what is being picked up illegally and I believe that the city would save considerably. I think the idea started of a trash tax in Charles Village (in which we pay a surtax for supplemental sanitation and security services) where they allowed the Charles Village Community Benefits District to pick up the city trash along the main streets and when caught doing this, this governmental agency then went and purchased their own $600. garbage cans with embossed lettering to cover that they were picking up garbage that should have been collected by the city. Correct monitoring of what is being picked up and tighter controls are the answer, not yet another tax. In the case of this community, it would mean real estate taxes, surtax taxes and now a trash tax. Whew! quite a lot to swallow from a Mayor that wants more people to move here.
Dave February 21, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Indeed Christian! I think trash is, or ought to be, the third rail of politics for Baltimore City. As a property owning, non-wealthy person, I have lived next door to a property that never properly handles their garbage. Nothing I do (calling 311, writing multiple letters to the head of the Charles Village Benefits District) has changed anything about how this house deals with their trash. The letters I sent to Mr. Hill (exec. director of CVBD) were not even dignified with a response. There is so much illegal dumping of trash and straight-up littering in this city that the idea of paying an additional tax to handle my garbage frankly makes me want to puke, sell my house, and leave the city I've spent close to 30 years living in. I see no connection between adding a trash tax and making Baltimore more desirable for outsiders. Here's an idea: if you litter, you will spend eight hours of your next Saturday cleaning up some of the trash that covers this city. There is no accountability for littering and as a result there is a culture of just not giving a crap. I encourage everyone to oppose this most ridiculous idea from Mayor Rawlings Blake. Write to her and your council person to tell them that this is just about the dumbest idea for bringing new residents into this city.
Able Baker February 22, 2013 at 04:26 PM
I think you're unfamiliar with what Daniel is saying. Aberdeen's model forces residents to pay according to how much garbage they put out (you affix stickers to your trash bags according to size). Recycling is provided at no cost (also known as "free") to the residents. Municipalities have an incentive to provide recycling services for free because the customer provides to them a saleable commodity (i.e material that can be recycled and sold, mostly aluminum) that's more or less presorted. The customer has an incentive to recycle because it reduces the amount they have to pay for garbage collection. So the customer pays less for trash collection and the municipality gains a revenue stream they can use to offset the cost of trash collection.
Able Baker February 22, 2013 at 04:30 PM
The answer to both of those problems is code enforcement. It's relatively easy to determine who isn't disposing of their trash properly, either by putting it in municipal baskets or putting it out without a trash can where rats can get it. The City needs to step up enforcement and the City Council has got to be on board when they start getting complaints from their constituents about being ticketed. CVCBD doesn't have any enforcement power. There is literally nothing they can do about a resident that isn't disposing of their trash properly.
Dave February 22, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Mr. Baker, Can you tell me who has enforcement power? This house has had problems not only with trash, but also with drugs, and disturbing the peace. As a direct result of the tenants who lived there, two homeowners left the block and are now renting their houses. What am I to do?
Sean Tully February 22, 2013 at 08:16 PM
Able, I am not unfamiliar with what Daniel is saying. But what he is saying is irrelevant to this discussion since our recycling is not free. Now, if you want to discuss whether or not Baltimore City should have the same type of trash collection that Aberdeen has, I'll be happy to engage you.
Sean Tully February 22, 2013 at 08:17 PM
I totally agree that the city has to step up enforcement. But try and get the city to listen.
Christian February 24, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Dave, Sean Tully and Able Baker, believe me there is a great deal you can do about this issue. A neighbor of ours in CV has actually gotten the interest of the City, Council Representatives and the offenders who refuse to act as prudent homeowners, renters and businesses. What we have been doing is monitoring properties and reporting each week to our elected officials, the City's agencies and documenting each complaint by a photographic summary of what has been noted. While there has not been dramatic changes made, we are creating a successful stream of actions that are causing these groups of buildings to take care of their garbage issues in a responsible manner. We hope to establish a "Code of Ethics" with the various buildings that show responsible management of garbage and which outlines the consequences of not following through. Dave, with respect to Drugs, you should contact the Northern District Police Department and explain the situation and report the disturbing the peace as well. These problems can be resolved if all of us want to get involved in actually supporting our claims with evidence and continued monitoring. We have also written to the Mayor and in some respects to the President of JHU who owns some of the buildings in order to establish guidelines, via our proposed "Code of Ethics". There is hope and we just have to work to ensure we get the attention of those in power to correct it. Good luck.
Able Baker February 25, 2013 at 07:06 PM
You're being intentionally obtuse by quibbling over the use of the word "free". Daniel is clearly talking about recycling that's free to the consumer as opposed to trash collection that's paid by volume.
Able Baker February 25, 2013 at 07:09 PM
That's not exactly true. If you compare Charles Village to other neighborhoods, there are a lot more trash cans. CV bought the trash cans and services them. They don't generally empty City cans.

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