JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax finally sat down with the City of Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes for a one-on-one interview about Solid Waste.
Investigator Emily Turner found out the city is not only considering changing the way it pays for the program, but also giving taxpayers a break next year.
Currently, homeowners pay $151.80 a year for the collection of recycling, garbage and yard waste. That fee doesn’t even come close to covering the cost of the program. So to make ends meet, the city has been borrowing from the General Fund, money it will have to pay back. This year, it will owe $31 million dollars.
“It’s worse every year. And that’s the problem with it,” Hughes said. “It creates the shell game of money and resources that add to the challenge.”
But raising the fee is to cover the cost of service is not the answer, Hughes said. Instead he told Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner the city is floating the idea of getting rid of the fee altogether and giving tax payers a credit-of-sorts. But it would require the financial architecture to be moved into the General Fund.
“People pay for it and they ought to get it,” Hughes said of curbside recycling services. “I think that would both demonstrate to people that we recognize the disruption and we are getting the budgeting process to a point where it shows Solid Waste is a priority.”
But that move could have multi-million dollar ramifications. Hughes said it could be up to $40 million dollars. But according to data from the Council Auditor’s Office, if the city had made the move sooner, when the first loan was taken from the general fund, the budgetary impacts would only be about three million.
But we wanted to know what took so long. The city refutes any claim that it took a crisis for these moves to be made.
“Some of the service problems that have been exacerbated by COVID have made it very apparent that financially it could be more responsible to simply fold it into the General Fund,” Hughes said.
But when Turner pressed him on that, saying, “the first loan from the general fund happened in 2017 so why didn’t this conversation start then?”
Hughes’ answer: “Because at the time, service was working.”
But here’s the catch to this whole plan. It’s still just an idea the administration is considering. Nothing is set in stone. And it’s made clear a fee increase is not happening.
So if nothing is done, Hughes himself said there will be no other option than to continue to dive into the pockets on the General Fund and continue playing, what he calls a “shell game.”
And it will only be worse next year: Two of the city’s three haulers have rate reviews this month and have given every indication they’ll be upping their fees by as much as ten dollars a residence.
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