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In this December Clinton Herald file photo, Gary Vath picks up plastic bottles on behalf of the Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency.

Natalie Conrad/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

A solid waste flat fee of $5.14 will soon appear on the monthly bills of customers of the city’s trash removal service, if a measure passed by the City Services Committee Tuesday receives support from the full City Council.

The six-point proposal, authored by councilman at large John Rowland, would allow the city additional time to determine a long-term solution to solid waste billing without worsening an existing fund deficit.

The flat fee, if adopted, will be added to the $9.25 monthly solid waste fee already paid by city trash removal customers, bringing their monthly total bill to $14.39. Residents who utilize private haulers for trash removal services would continue to pay the $9.25 fee. This proposal is similar to scenario one, proposed by city finance director Jessica Kinser at the March 13 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, but does not call for a monthly capital investment fee.

Rowland wrote the proposal using information gathered from a public forum held over the weekend. Surveys taken at the forum show that a majority of respondents do not support the implementation of a flat fee, but a majority would support a usage-based fee.

Rowland’s plan, which would be active until Oct. 1, would use the flat fee as a stopgap measure while the city continues to evaluate the implementation of a usage fee. By setting a deadline, Rowland said that city staff would be forced to seriously address the issue and come up with a long-term solution.

“There’s numerous safeguards built in here, I think,” Rowland said.

Rowland’s plan would also call for the hiring of a project manager to oversee all aspects of the solid waste process. If the process is perfected, Rowland believes that billing will be more simple for city staff.

The city administrator and other staff may not have the time or resources to commit to the issue as wholly as may be necessary, Rowland said, so having a person dedicated to solid waste billing could prove beneficial. After the meeting, Rowland said that he estimates that a project manager would cost the city $60 to $70 an hour, but the position would not be full time.

Other points on Rowland’s plan call for an increased focus on recycling efforts and careful scrutiny of citizen-proposed alternatives. He also suggested soliciting cost estimates from private sector contractors. He hopes that this information will reveal to the community that city services are cost-effective. Rowland noted that the information gathered would be for discussion only, and would not be an official bid-letting.

City Services Committee members were supportive of Rowland’s proposal. Third Ward Councilwoman Bev Hermann said that taking this immediate action will allow city leaders to devote the time to this issue that it deserves.

“If we give ourselves, this six months, and even provide for more time if we need it, we can try to work this out,” she said.

City Street employee Scott Bengtson said the city would likely find that a permanent flat fee is the best solution. Customer service issues, user fraud and simple errors will be frequent thorns in the city’s side, even if the usage fee is eventually implemented, he said. Rather than spending money on an outside consultant, Bengtson said the city should stick with a flat fee long-term.

“I think a flat fee, which every other town does, is the way to go,” he said.

A special Committee of the Whole meeting will be held on April 3 at 1:30 p.m. to consider Rowland’s proposal, and to address concerns or make adjustments as necessary. Whatever iteration is passed by the Committee of the Whole will be considered by the City Council on April 10 as part of a regularly scheduled meeting.

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