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Possible trash collection fee not popular among residents

It's been roughly 60 years since the city of Columbus charged residents to pick up their garbage. But with less revenue coming to the city, a trash collection fee could be imposed.

Columbus City Auditor Hugh Dorian said it was likely the early 1940s when the city last charged for trash collection. The fee likely disappeared when the income tax was implemented at the start of 1948.

Dorian has been working for the city for 43 years and has been auditor for 39 of them. He said tax collections are stagnant, property tax revenue is down and the city's not getting as much money from the state as it has in recent years.

"It is not good," he said.

The city has an operating budget shortfall of $75 million.

"Right now I do not see any improvements in these revenue streams. And if that is the case our financial situation in 2009 would be as bad as any year as I can remember," Dorian said.

Dorian said a trash collection fee could help boost revenue. While he would not speculate a fee amount, he did say it costs Columbus between $45 and $50 million a year to take care of the city's trash.

While imposing a fee is dangerous politically, it would an easier way to raise money than increasing the city's income tax. City council can impose the trash fee on its own. Voters would have to approve an income tax hike.

City councilwoman Charleta Tavares would not say if she would vote for a trash fee. She said, though, that it would be only a short-term fix.

"I believe we should certainly look at long-term solutions because there are structural changes in the operating expenses of the city," Tavares said.

Tavares said increasing fuel costs, sliding housing prices and delinquent tax collections all affect revenue and how the city will continue to offer services.

City Council President Pro-Tem Kevin Boyce said a number of options are being considered to help draw more revenue. He acknowledged that a trash fee is one of them on the table. But Boyce said nothing will be voted on until there are public hearings.

"Understand that we are also in a position where if we don't take an action that will help us generate revenue, we'll have to take an action that will help us cut resources from the city. So it's one or the other and unfortunately that's just a part of the way the economy nationally is at this time," Boyce said.

Around the city, reaction to the idea was mostly negative.

"Well, I'm opposed to anything that's going to cost me more money. I wouldn't mind. I don't think it's necessary. It's lousy," Columbus residents remarked.

Columbus resident Andrew Wanner said he thinks the fee would encourage recycling.

"So you would be alright with it then? I would be. I guess it depends on how much it costs," Wanner said.

Towana Sullivan used to live in Heath and always had to pay for trash collection. She said she's gotten used to not having to pay, and does not think many people will go for it.

"Everything is so high these days. We don't need another hit in our pocket. We really don't," she said.

New to Columbus, Douglas Kackman, was surprised to learn the city does not charge for trash pick-up and hasn't for about 60 years. Kackman, too, thinks it will be a tough sell.

"People have gotten very comfortable I'm quite sure without such a fee. How this gentleman going to go ahead and propose such a thing, if at all it's going to happen, uh, good luck to him," Kackman said.

The garbage fee would need approval from four of the seven city council members.