When the City Council meets on Monday, members will have to choose between two competing proposals regarding the controversial municipal trash free. And it’s hard not to see the battle as a kick-off to next year’s mayoral race.
On the agenda for the Dec. 6 meeting is a proposal by Council President (and presumed 2011 mayoral candidate Jose Tosado) to eliminate the fee for curbside trash pick-up, which was first instituted in 2006 by the Finance Control Board. At the time, Tosado—who sat on the Control Board that year, by virtue of his position as Council president—supported the fee, which backers said would provide much-needed revenue for the struggling city. “I wasn't thinking about politics. I was thinking about what was best for the city. So I voted for it, and I stand by that vote,” Tosado recently told the Advocate.
Four years later, though, Tosado says he believes the city is in solid-enough financial shape to cut residents a break by rescinding the fee. His presumed mayoral aspirations notwithstanding, Tosado says his motivations remain non-political. “I think the taxpayers deserve this break, and we can afford it—that’s the big thing,” he said.
Mayor Domenic Sarno doesn’t agree. Earlier this week, Sarno announced that he will bring a competing proposal to councilors, asking them to extend the fee, which had been due to expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
In his announcement, Sarno said that, after “extensive consultation” with City Hall finance staff, he believes the expiration date should be pushed back two years. Citing the “continued fragile financial situation of the city and state,” the statement said that the city just doesn’t have the resources to absorb the full cost of trash collection right now.
The fee, according to the mayor’s office, brings in $3.7 million in revenue a year. “The loss of $3.7 million would result in major cuts to other City services and it is not the fiscally responsible thing to do. We must not return to past fiscal practices which had placed the City of Springfield on the verge of bankruptcy and prompted the creation of the Finance Control Board,” Sarno was quoted saying.
“I am not willing to make a decision that is based on politics instead of good governance; a decision that is sure to hurt the citizens of Springfield in the long run,” he added.
“ Mayor Sarno stated that his goal is still to eliminate the trash fee but to do so in a fiscally prudent manner,” the announcement continued.
Like Tosado’s, Sarno’s position on the trash fee has changed over time: during his 2007 campaign for mayor, Sarno ran on a pledge to eliminate the fee. After defeating incumbent Mayor Charlie Ryan, a fee backer, Sarno then changed his mind, saying he thought the fee was necessary after all.
On Monday, residents will get a chance to see which councilors line up behind which proposal. Finance Committee Chairman Tim Rooke, for one, has already said he believes the fee needs to stay in place. In fact, he told the Advocate last month, the fee should actually be increased, as it doesn’t cover the full cost of trash collection.
A new trash fee policy will also need the approval of the state Legislature. State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera—one of the loudest critics of the fee—told the Springfield Republican in an article printed this morning that she’ll fight any bill that would extend the fee.
The fee is currently $75 a year—done from an initial $90—with discounts available for low-income residents, disabled veterans and the blind.