Garbage collection will cost less in the City of Union next year.
Union City Council voted 6-1 Wednesday to cut the garbage collection fee from $15 to $12 a month. Council took the action at the recommendation of Mayor Bruce Morgan, who said the cut was justified by reductions in personnel and other costs achieved by the Public Services Department. Morgan said the reductions were achieved through new technology that allows the department to continue providing quality service with fewer personnel and reduced fuel consumption. He said the reduction in the cost of garbage and brush collection required a cut in the garbage collection fee.
“Overall, in that entire department we have went from 21 employees to 14 employees and we have done that by using technology and this new equipment,” he said. “The garbage fee went to $15 a number of years ago and so we see an opportunity now to give back to the citizens part of that fee because of these savings and reductions in operating costs. That's a rare occasion in government and we are so happy to be able to do that.”
Councilman Keith Henderson cast the only dissenting vote, saying that while he favored eliminating the fee completely, he was concerned about the possibility that the city might have to raise revenues in another area to replace those lost with the reduction.
Morgan said the reduction in the fee will amount to approximately $140,000.
In a related matter, council voted to continue to modernize the Public Service Department's fleet. The city will purchase a new garbage truck and a brush collection truck and pay for them over four years. Morgan said the purchases will give the city two garbage trucks equipped with mechanical arms for picking up trash cans. The vehicles require only a single operator whereas the older trucks required a driver and two other personnel to empty the trash cans. He said this will enable the city to eliminate the last of its old-style garbage trucks.
Council also gave tentative approval to the 2008-2009 budget, which leaves the municipal property tax and utility rates at their current levels.
The $50,356,900 budget is $2,506,900 than the current budget. Morgan said this is due primarily to the increased cost of fuel and capital improvement projects the city must make in the coming year. The city's budget is composed primarily of the general fund ($5,948,470), the solid waste fund ($886,160) and the utility fund ($43,171,770.)
Council balanced the budget without raising taxes and utility rates by slashing approximately $3.5 million in capital expenditures from the utility department. Even though they were cut from the budget, most of the utility projects will go forward, funded either out of this year's budget or with financing obtained from the state.
The largest cut was the replacement of the Beltline sewage treatment facility and the 35-year-old clarifier at the Tosch Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant ($2,155,000). Council voted in March to seek a low-interest loan for the projects from the State Revolving Fund. The standard interest rate for an SRF loan is 3.5 percent for a 20-year term. The city's loan payments would be $147,000 a year.
Morgan said the project was originally included in the budget because DHEC is demanding that the city move forward on replacing the Beltline facility and the clarifier. He said council had considered delaying the project for a year but this would have been opposed by DHEC. Instead of paying for it up front as with other projects, the city will instead seek the loan and pay for it in installments.
“That's how we reduced this budgeted item from $2.1 million to $147,000,” he said. “So we will still continue to do the project and the cost will be amortized over 20 years.”
Also eliminated from the 2008-2009 budget was $200,000 for the purchase of a directional boring machine. The machine will instead be purchased with funds out of this year's budget.
Utility director Joe Nichols said that over the past 18 months the city has spent more than $700,000 out sourcing the boring for its gas, water and power lines. He said the new machine will enable the city to reduce this cost by doing such work in-house. He said the machine will also enable city crews to bore under roads and driveways rather than digging them up and having to repair them.