Most resident residents will find themselves paying higher trash collection fees if the town of Morrisville changes the way the service is funded.
While most municipalities charge residents a separate trash fee, Morrisville currently pays for its solid waste pickup with an additional three cents on the property tax rate, which is $0.39 per $100 in valuation.
Morrisville Town Council members debated several options, including switching to a flat fee model, at a recent meeting.
Members of the town’s staff have asked the council to make a decision by March, so the changes can go in effect by July, when the new fiscal year begins.
Solid waste services cost the town more than $1 million this fiscal year, an increase of $200,000 from five years ago.
“I’m in favor of doing what most towns do – not reinventing the wheel,” said Council member Michael Schlink, advocating for a user fee instead of tax funding.
Shifting to a user fee would allow the town to cut the property tax rate by three cents without losing any money.
Morrisville likely will add two cents to the property tax rate this summer to begin paying for a bond referendum passed in 2012. If officials also switch to a solid waste fee, the town could still wind up with a lower property tax rate when next year’s budget is passed.
“It’s about the pressure on our tax rate,” Mayor Mark Stohlman said.
End of business subsidies
A lower property tax rate is good news for the offices and commercial developments Morrisville is known for.
But switching solid waste to a user fee system would also force most, if not all, Morrisville homeowners to pay more.
In the current system, solid waste services are subsidized by businesses and the homeowners with the most expensive properties.
“It does shift the cost of the program directly to the users,” said Tony Chiotakis, Morrisville’s director of public services. “Some people like that. Some do not.”
He said enforcement could be an issue with user fees. In the current system, the program is always funded as long as people pay their property taxes. Those who don’t can be declared delinquent and face harsh penalties, including garnered wages or property seizures.
In a user fee system, such options wouldn’t exist. Chiotakis said the only recourse is to stop picking up trash from households that don’t pay.
But that would require trash collectors to have up-to-date maps of which houses to skip. It also could lead to public health concerns.
Council members in favor of a user fee said it would level the playing field.
Businesses are unfairly taxed under the current plan, Stohlman said, because the town only provides residential trash pickup. Commercial property owners must pay for private waste services in addition to subsidizing residential services through their taxes.
Stohlman said a user fee would help the town continue to advertise a low property tax rate.
“There’s a lot of pressure on that tax rate this could go a long way toward addressing,” Stohlman said.
Council member T.J. Cawley said he is wary of switching to a user fee because of the cost to residents.
Because businesses now provide 42 percent of the town’s current solid waste budget, Cawley said, switching to a user fee would mean asking residents to pay nearly twice as much for the same service.
“Just to be totally transparent, that’s the outcome of a user fee,” he said.
The council also debated a pay-as-you-throw system to encourage recycling.
Under one plan, residents only would be allowed to throw away trash using special bags sold around town. Recycling would remain on a flat fee.
That way, people who recycle more would save by spending less on the bags. But some on the council expressed worry that residents would recycle unrecyclable materials, and the program would get increasingly expensive for the town as people become more efficient and revenues from trash bag sales drop.
The $20 million funded by the bond referendum will pay for road improvements, updates to the town-owned fitness center and a new greenway, tennis courts and more at Morrisville Community Park.
The council didn’t vote on any waste-related issues but will likely bring them up for a vote soon. The next two council meetings are Feb. 24 and March 10.