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Proposed clean-up fee stirs debate in Jonesboro

Some see it as an unwanted tax

JONESBORO — A proposed $180 citywide cleaning fee is stirring up a hornet’s nest in Jonesboro.

If the proposal is approved, every resident would be assessed the fee on their yearly tax bill, regardless of whether they use Jonesboro’s trash collection service. The fee would also cover the expense of street sweeping and limb and leaf pick-up across the city, but that didn’t placate residents and council members who spoke out against it Monday.

“I’ve got a problem with this, basically, all the way around,” said resident Carl Helton. “This seems like a tax that should be up to the voters to vote on whether we want to do this or not.”

Mayor Joy Day said Councilman Bobby Wiggins suggested adding the cleaning fee in January, and a committee including Wiggins, Day and Councilwoman Pat Sebo was formed to look into it. Revenues generated by the fee would go into a fund to be used for major capital purchases, such as a new garbage truck or street sweeper, rather than having to finance it over several years.

It’s coming up now for a discussion because officials need to know whether to apply it to this year’s tax bills, said Day.

“Owing to the fact that we’re getting close to the end of our fiscal year, I wanted to re-introduce it to see if the council wanted to take action on it because we have to have time at city hall to address it,” said Day. “Whether we put it on the tax bill, whether we collect it or whether we don’t do it at all, we need time to prepare for whatever the council would like to do.”

About 600 customers pay $15 every month to use Jonesboro’s garbage collection service, said Day. There were 4,724 residents in the Jonesboro area as of 2010, according to U.S. census data. However, that figure includes people who have a Jonesboro address but live outside the city limits.

Day said county estimates put the actual city of Jonesboro’s population at 2,129 residents, although she expressed skepticism that the figure isn’t higher.

But the city’s garbage service is having trouble paying for itself, said Day.

“Not if you figured in the long-term cost of a garbage truck which I don’t think that was ever figured in,” she said.

Day said the city has to pay for upkeep of equipment, including the garbage truck, personnel salaries and benefits and fees to take the garbage to a landfill. It costs $111,176 to provide the service this year and at a monthly rate of $15 per customer, it earns back about $108,000, she said.

But the cost to clean up the city goes beyond garbage pickup. The total cost of keeping the city clean is about $246,755, said Day.

“If you just think about garbage, that’s only one phase of the cleanup,” she said. “We have a street sweeping machine. We have a chipper. We pick up leaves and limbs. We go to the landfill. We keep the parks clean. It takes personnel and it takes equipment. So it’s not just garbage — it’s all of the cleanup in the city.”

However, despite Day’s assertions that cleanup in the city is a broad issue, residents and council members have zeroed in on the garbage issue.

“You’re forcing people to pay for a service whether they want it or not,” said former Councilman Roger Grider.

Councilman Clarence Mann said many residents may not use the garbage service because they have other ways of disposing their trash.

“What you’re trying to do is enforce something on someone that realistically might be taking care of their garbage in other ways,” said Mann. “Some people have their children or someone come by to haul their little bit of garbage away.”

Wiggins expressed opposition to a one-time yearly fee tacked onto tax bills of homeowners. He suggested a quarterly fee schedule for them, and a one-time fee for renters. Day said that would create collections issues, though, because the city would need to have a method of collecting bad debt.

One resident, Beverly Lester, suggested a sort of a la carte-esque approach to the fee so residents wouldn’t have to pay for the garbage service if they didn’t use it.

“I was wondering if there was a way to charge everybody for street sweeping, a service that everybody gets, but not charge them a garbage fee if they don’t want?” said Lester. “Could we have two separate fee schedules as an option?”

Day said it would be up to the council to decide whether to use two fee schedules.

A vote is expected to be taken on the issue at the council’s monthly business meeting Aug. 12. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m., at the Jonesboro Police Department headquarters, 170 S. Main St.