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Town trashes county's garbage fee proposal

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County is proposing to charge all residents of the county $3 a week for trash pickup, but Independence Town Council members feel they should have been included in negotiations.

Now, the Town of Independence pays the county $3,000 a month to pick up residential trash in town limits.

If the $3 weekly fee is approved, that amount would jump from $36,000 a year to more than $64,000 — a 78 percent increase, according to Town Manager Kenneth Vaught — and town residents would foot the bill instead of Independence.

The board of supervisors thought the town would be glad to give up a $3,000 monthly bill.

Vaught, however, noted that when you say “the Town of Independence,” you are still talking about its residents.

So, whether the town writes the check — through revenues from taxes and utility bills, which are paid by residents — or the residents pay the bill themselves, they are still looking at a sharp increase.

Vaught expressed his concern to council at its regular meeting June 9, noting that the two localities were currently in an agreement that began on July 1, 2003. The agreement says the town will pay $3,000 a month to the county, based on a few conditions.

One of those conditions is that all increases to the contract will be based on increases in the consumer price index, plus increases in fuel cost and landfill cost and will be negotiated annually.

While council said they would understand a small increase, asking for an additional 78 percent is unheard of.

Vaught had his own formula for estimating how much residents should be responsible for.

He said about 3.92 percent of the households in town receive trash pickup each week.

According to the amount Grayson County has budgeted to receive from public works in 2009-10, Independence’s share should only be around $38,000 — or around $2,000 more for the year.

Vice Mayor Tom Maxwell told The Gazette via e-mail that the proposed increase is far more than what it should be.

“Our numbers confirm the need for an increase in rates countywide,” he said. “But we calculate a fair increase to be about five percent, spread over the residents countywide.”

Maxwell felt that town residents do not need to subsidize the total rate increase incurred by the county because of its shortfall.

“The residents of the Town of Independence pay the same county taxes as the residents of the county, plus the town taxes on top of that,” Maxwell continued. “Why should the town residents pay higher rates for trash pickup?”

Maxwell felt that it was far more cost-efficient to pick up the town trash, since the residences are in close proximity, and the mileage to cover the entire town is probably less than many single secondary roads.

During the meeting, Vaught also expressed concern about the utility fee that is currently placed on residents' electric bills each month.

Vaught said it was his impression that the fee was put on there to cover trash services, while supervisors have noted that the money goes directly to the county’s general fund and is used to cover many services — one of which is trash collection.

Vaught added that a meeting was scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, with County Administrator Jonathan Sweet and Assistant County Administrator Mitch Smith, as well as Elk Creek Supervisor Brenda Sutherland, to discuss options.

Sweet told The Gazette last week that it costs the same amount to pick up trash in Independence as it does anywhere else in the county and the only way to keep things consistent is charge all county residents the same.

He added that Independence has options. They can either discontinue service with Grayson County and provide it themselves by way of contract or picking it up themselves, or they could pay the same fees other residents will be paying.

“It all costs the same. Those expenses are spread out to keep the rates low,” Sweet added. “Everyone pays the same rate so they remain low.”

Vaught also expressed concern about the county’s increase in vehicle decals during the meeting last week.

Vaught said Grayson Treasurer Junior Young told him town residents would be required to pay $15 to the town for their decal, and then an additional $10 to the county to make up the difference.

(Grayson County is proposing to increase their vehicle fee on cars and trucks from $20 to $25.)

Council had planned to pursue legal action, noting a section in the Virginia State Code that prohibited a county from charging citizens for anything if a town already does so.

According to Sweet, that idea was never discussed and wasn’t included in projections of revenue.

“That is a non-issue,” he said. “We didn’t factor that into the budget.”