Bubble, bubble: City trash fees double

Anna Belle Hopkins didn't think it was a good idea when Charlottesville started requiring stickers on garbage bags back in 1992. Now that the fees are doubling July 1, "I think," she says, "it's utterly ridiculous. We're being double taxed."

Hopkins is over 65 and on a "very, very fixed income." She recycles– "That's free, but who knows how much longer?"– and she doesn't have a lot of trash, but she worries about people like her neighbors, who will soon be paying $6 a week for their three cans of trash.

"People can't afford it when the economy is the way it is," she says. "It's not only the elderly on fixed incomes, but those who are unemployed, too."

Over on Page Street, Josephine Morrison isn't happy with the garbage service to begin with. "I'm very disturbed about it when my garbage is only half picked up," she complains. "They leave more damn garbage on the street than they pick up. Last week I called at four o'clock because they hadn't picked it up. That's just unacceptable, and then they want $2 to pick it up?"

Currently, city residents pay 50 cents for a 13-gallon sticker and $1 for a 32-gallon sticker. Steve Lawson, public service manager, says the cheapest way to go is to buy annual stickers. Now $43.75, they'll increase to $90 in July.

"When you compare to what people pay in the county, it's still a good deal," Lawson says. BFI, the largest independent garbage service, charges $22 a month to pick up trash in Albemarle County, which works out to $264 a year.

Restaurants are the city's biggest curbside collection customers, according to Lawson.

Jessica Wilkins, general manager at Rapture, says, "It's definitely going to be quite an increase." Rapture puts out anywhere between three to seven barrels of refuse a day. And she notes that commercial users can't buy the yearly stickers.

"I'm concerned on a business and personal level," she says. "If they're going to double them, I'd rather pay the tax." The increase, she adds, "affects everyone."

"Oh, my God," says White Spot owner Dmitris Tavampis when informed about the doubled trash fees. "I thought maybe they'd go up 10 cents. A dollar is a lot." Currently, Tavampis spends $4-5 a day for trash pickup.

Joan Fenton, co-chair of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, suggests that the fees should have had a built-in cost of living increase. "It's hard when fees double," she says.

Other businesses are unfazed by the increase. "I don't think it's going to break us," says Vinegar Hill theater manager Reid Oechslin. "I live somewhere where it costs more to get rid of trash."

He trades off buying stickers with next door L'avventura restaurant, and estimates the two businesses put out about 12 cans a week.

"We've been subsidized for a while," he says. "We're going to have to deal with it. It's just a cost of doing business."

Rob Schilling was the sole city councilor to vote against the new budget, which also increases vehicle decals and the meals tax. "I got a lot of calls from people begging me to please put the brakes on because it's getting too expensive to live here. These fees defeat making it affordable."

Don't get local businessman Tyler Sewell going about the doubled trash fees. "If you're going to raise taxes, don't call it a fee," he protests. "It's an egregious raising of taxes."

As a retiree on a fixed income, Josephine Morrison sees the trash fees as symptoms of Charlottesville's unaffordability, and she blames the ruling party.

"I'm sick of those Democrats down there," she blasts. "My god-dang sewage is higher. They give me services, but I have to pay for it. Those Democrats have been in there a little too long. I'm not voting for them."