HOUSTON - After police and fire protection, it’s hard to find a municipal priority more critical to the taxpaying public than garbage collection.
Hard-pressed by the pandemic for cash and claiming Houston’s solid waste department has been “starved”, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed a new lease fee on garbage bins to raise $5 million of new revenue.
“We have strained solid waste to the limit, to the limit in this city,” said Turner.
At $1.14 per month, the additional charge was pitched by proponents as a job saver and an acceptable means of helping the city navigate hard financial times.
But opponents said the timing for the fee was “terrible” with Houston Councilman Mike Knox calling the measure an involuntary tax that would hit low-income families hardest.
“I think it will disproportionately affect our minority and low-income communities where every penny makes a difference in their budget,” said Knox.
Turner pushed back hard, ultimately winning a tight 8-6 vote after warning of potential layoffs and the re-instigation of water service cut-offs.
“There are more expenses than we have revenue,” said Turner.
On Houston’s Southwest side Janine and David Brown said they’d gladly pay more to keep folks employed.
“To save jobs and to keep our city employees working I think it would be best if we could all pitch in,” said David.
But a few miles away, homeowner Chris Marten was far less supportive of another government grab into his wallet, albeit a small one.
“I also worry about it being a little bit of a slippery slope," Marten said. "If we agree to this the next time we have a budget shortfall they will try to find something else to tack on a dollar or two fee."
Opponents of the garbage fee did get one concession. The Mayor agreed that the measure will expire or “sunset” in four years, at which time a new Council can decide whether not to levy it again.
The garbage container lease fee is scheduled to take effect on July 1.