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Trash bills to jump: Greenwood OKs rate hike to fund leaf, limb pickup

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Another Greenwood utility bill is poised to jump after a series of recent rate increases.

The Greenwood City Council voted unanimously this week for preliminary approval to raise trash utility bills by $1.25 per month next year and by another $1.25 per month in 2014.

Controller Adam Stone said the city wanted to raise rates so it could continue to bring in enough to pay for trash collection, leaf and limb pickup and free mulch for anyone who wants it. More money is needed to maintain the current level of services, he said.

Greenwood would otherwise have to look at cutting or scaling back the leaf and limb services, Stone said. A recent study by the controller’s office found the city won’t bring in enough to pay expenses over the next three years without a rate increase.

Council members said leaf and limb pickup is one of the most popular services the city offers. Even people who use their leaves for mulch instead of raking them to the curb get their Christmas tree picked up for free, city attorney Krista Taggart said.

Greenwood’s higher rate will still be cheaper than what residents would pay if they hired trash companies directly on their own, without Greenwood negotiating a bulk discount, council member Linda Gibson said.

Residents now pay $10.97 a month to have Best Way Disposal pick up their trash each week. That fee also covers the cost of having leaves and downed or trimmed tree limbs hauled off the curb.

After both increases, residents would pay $13.47 a month for trash service.

Greenwood doesn’t pay for trash service with property taxes the way some other communities do, because the council has always decided to bill it as a utility, city director of operations Terry McLaughlin said. Every property uses the trash service, so every property helps pay for it, he said.

Not all residents might rake their leaves to the curb or leave out their limbs, but they could if they needed to, McLaughlin said. He said he sympathized with people who don’t have trees or fallen limbs to pick up but said it was no different than residents paying property taxes for schools even if they hadn’t had any children enrolled in the schools for decades.

Residents don’t have the option of not paying for trash services unless they also get their city water and sewer service shut off, McLaughlin said. Those services can’t be separated with the way that billing is set up.

Earlier this year, the council also approved two sewer rate increases over the next two years and created a new stormwater utility that charges residents $5 a month. Those rate hikes followed a 44 percent sewer rate increase in late 2010.

The various rate increases add up. City residents would pay an average of $258 more per year in fees for city-run utilities than they did three years ago, as a result of the recent, forthcoming and proposed hikes.

Gibson said that, even with the latest increase, Greenwood residents still get a good deal on trash service. She called all three major trash companies and $18.50 per month was the cheapest quote she got for comparable service and still wouldn’t include limb pickup.

“I always get comments on how the leaf and limb is a great service,” she said. “But even looking at the dollar amount, it’s a pretty good bargain.”

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