At last night's public hearing on the City budget, we questioned the proposal to replace our current waste collection and disposal fee with a property tax increase on the grounds that doing this would make the actual cost of our waste “invisible” to residents, and create no financial incentive to reduce how much we throw away. We proposed a variable rate structure based on the amount of waste each resident generates instead, as used in Austin and Seattle and thousands of other American cities and towns.
See Sustain Charlotte Director Shannon Binns' comments to City Council below:
My name is Shannon Binns, I live here in Charlotte and I direct a local nonprofit called Sustain Charlotte.
Tonight I want to share with you our perspective on two important issues related to the budget.
First, think about the last time you turned down your thermostat because you knew that doing this would save you some money on your monthly electricity bill.
Now think about the last time you turned off the faucet or garden hose because you knew it was wasteful to let it run, and that you would pay for your wastefulness when you got your water bill later that month if you didn’t switch it off.
Now think about the last time you didn’t throw something in the garbage can at home because you knew it would save you some money on your garbage bill.
My guess is that you thought about a time you turned down your thermostat and turned off the faucet, but had a hard time remembering when you didn’t throw something away to save some money.
This is because putting less in your garbage can at home doesn’t save you money. No matter how much (or how little) waste you create, the amount you pay is the same.
In other words, the financial incentive you have to reduce your energy and water use does not exist when it comes to the amount of waste services you use.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Unit pricing, also known as variable rate pricing or pay-as-you-throw, is a system under which residents pay for waste management services per unit of waste collected rather than through a fixed fee or tax, thereby offering individuals an incentive to reduce the amount of waste they generate.
In fact, rather than replacing our current flat annual waste services fee with a higher property tax to raise the revenues needed for waste collection and disposal, which makes the true costs of waste services invisible to residents, we urge you to implement variable rate pricing as thousands of municipalities around the country have already done, including Seattle, WA and Austin, TX, to name just two.
This approach is not only more economically efficient, but it is also more equitable in that those who choose to reduce their waste are not subsidizing those who choose not to do so, more transparent, and gives residents more control over the cost of waste services, in that they are able to save money by the choices they make.
If we move to a variable rate system, it is estimated that we would generate $17M in additional revenue in the first year and see another $2M in tipping fee savings for a net financial impact of $19 million in the first year, nearly enough to cover our current budget gap. Over 10 years, this approach is estimated to positively impact our bottom line by $233M.
Lastly, I want to reiterate our continued support for investing in Phase 2 of the Gold Line. Those of you who were serving on Council in May of 2013 will recall that we presented a statement of support for this investment to Council that was signed by over 2,500 of our residents. Like us, those residents remain supportive of this important investment for our growing city and we do not have time to delay this investment further.
Thank you, and thank you for your service.