$30 hike in trash fees advances.


Byline: Danielle M. Williamson

GARDNER - The City Council has sent a revised solid waste ordinance to first printing, but is also planning to change some of the language in the proposed law before giving it final approval by month's end.

The revised ordinance includes a $30 annual increase in the trash fee, which councilors and residents have discussed in several public meetings since Health Director Bernard F. Sullivan announced this month that the city faces a shortfall in its solid waste enterprise account. Mr. Sullivan has proposed increasing the $150 annual per-household trash fee, which is billed quarterly, to $180 next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

With a 9-2 vote, councilors last night supported Councilor Ronald F. Cormier's motion to send the ordinance to first printing - the first of two printings before it becomes law - and refer it to the Public Safety Committee.

The committee, which oversees the Health Department, will meet at 1:15 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers.

Mr. Cormier suggested the committee consider inserting language that would let the Health Department withhold services from residents who fail to pay their trash bills. Mr. Sullivan has said unpaid bills are one of the contributors to this year's deficit, and has noted that there is no provision in the ordinance that lets the city cut off service to these delinquent taxpayers.

While the unpaid bills are ultimately tacked on to residents' tax bills, they still create a cash-flow problem. Mr. Sullivan has also expressed concern that leaving people's trash on the curb could create a public health problem.

Councilors David T. Boudreau and Joshua L. Cormier voted no on Ronald Cormier's motion because they thought they should have had more options before making a decision. They did not object to the proposed $30 increase, but rather the limited time they have to approve the changes so the city doesn't run into the same problem next fiscal year.

Officials knew in February that the solid waste enterprise account, launched during the second quarter of this fiscal year, could face a several-hundred-thousand-dollar deficit. Mayor Mark P. Hawke said before the meeting yesterday that the city offset nearly $222,000 of the shortfall with one-time revenue from previous years' trash bag sales, and nearly $73,000 with money from taxes. Even after closing those holes, he explained, the account is nearly $122,000 short.

Mr. Hawke is confident that increasing the annual fee to $180...

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