From Tom Houseknecht:
There is one major problem with Mr. Molino’s most recent attempt to sell city council and the voters of Batavia on removing garbage collection from the budget and replacing the tax with a user fee. In his comparison of costs, he claims that maintaining the current trash system would require a property tax increase from the current $10.71 to $11.14 per thousand. What he does not tell anyone in this comparison is that this increase cannot happen without a public vote by the citizens of Batavia (with 60% in favor) because of New York’s 2% property tax cap. This means $10.92 is the highest the tax rate can rise to without a vote of the citizens. Many more cuts would be needed in the city budget to keep the taxes under the cap, perhaps including council’s 75% pay increase.
What I feel is happening in this change of trash/recycling collection is this – If Mr. Molino removes the trash process from the budget (effectively lowering the budget by approximately one million dollars) he is able to avoid dealing with a property tax increase of more than 2%. An increase higher than 2% would cause council to put the city’s budget out to public vote. The only other way to keep the tax rate below a 2% increase would be to make big cuts elsewhere. The biggest perceived adverse side affect to this proposal is the impact on the ARC as their collection system, that has served the city well for 28 years, is not geared to the new user fee based system. Therefore, with little time in which to craft their response to the city’s bid specification, the ARC was not the lowest bidder.
With the sideshow of the battle for the ARC and the local jobs they provide, Mr. Molino has attempted to paint his new proposal as an overall savings for the taxpayers. The problem is that we are being misled into thinking that the majority of taxpayers will experience lower costs. The reality is the lowest valued properties will pay an increased amount and the highest valued properties will receive the savings, while the majority of taxpayers will pay more in total.
I now believe that the main reason for this proposal is that it allows for minimal budget cuts, a city council raise and no public vote while passing the bulk of the increase onto the city’s lowest income citizens. When compared to what you paid in 2012, if you are assessed at $60,000, the increase in what you pay out between your taxes and the new user fee at the smallest tote size will be an additional $64 per year, however if you are assessed at $200,000 you will save $183.
Under the proposed plan, everyone assessed below $96,000 will be paying more than they did in 2012. Everyone assessed higher will receive a savings. This break-even point on assessment will move somewhat if a higher tax rate is considered as opposed to the proposed rate with user fee, but should not be compared to a rate that is higher than the city will be allowed to pass without a vote of the citizens.
I’m not disputing the fact that trash collection is an expensive service that needs to be scrutinized as part of the budgeting process. I’m also not opposed to a pay increase for council members. What I take exception to is the ruse that a user fee based system will save the majority of taxpayers money. The “Fact” sheet on the city’s own Web site makes the ludicrous claim that “close to 90% of the city's properties will experience lower costs.” Whether this is a distortion, a misrepresentation, a mistake or a lie, it is far from the truth. If it is true that the average home is assessed at $80,000.00 (as quoted from Mr. Molino’s budget presentation of 1/7/10), the majority of city taxpayers will be paying more. Whether you call it a user fee or a property tax, it is a tax that will impact those who can least afford it the most.
The trash collection/user fee issue is a ruse for the fact that the city is currently proposing an overall budget that will cause them to exceed the 2 percent property tax cap. Their proposed solution puts a greater burden on the city’s lowest income residents, grants council a 75% salary increase and throws one of our finest local human service agencies and their employees under the bus. The plan is being promoted with distortions of fact. All residents need to hold council and the city manager accountable.
As this is my second letter regarding this issue, I again want to state that I appreciate the efforts of our city leaders, especially in these trying economic times. My purpose in writing is not to attack the service of our council members, but to suggest that the facts are being presented in a way that may not be clearly understood by all taxpayers. I am a proponent of the ARC and I believe they are caught in this controversy because of city management’s goal to remove trash collection from the property tax in an effort to avoid a budget battle.