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Picking Up The Tab: Murfreesboro Residents to Soon Begin Paying $5 Monthly Trash Disposal Fee

The City of Murfreesboro will soon require homeowners in the city to pay a monthly $5 waste disposal fee.

The Murfreesboro City Council gave this plan its seal of approval as part of its budgetary vote in July 2016, a move in response to the looming closing of the Middle Point Landfill in Walter Hill.

For years, trash from Murfreesboro and Rutherford County residents went to this landfill, and as part of the agreement for allowing the landfill to operate in the area, Middle Point collected no fees to dispose of trash from its home county.

However, the waste disposal facility estimates it will reach capacity within approximately eight years. At that time, costs for disposing of Murfreesboro’s trash will rise, thus the implementation of the monthly disposal fee now.

“The cost of disposal will increase significantly when the landfill closes,” according to Murfreesboro City Councilman Eddie Smotherman. “The proposed fee will help in covering the cost of preparing for the future, which will most likely involve a trash-to-energy system, a sorting facility, a compacting facility, a trash transporting operation and much more (none of which is cheap). Bottom line is: disposing of trash isn’t free today and it’s going to get more expensive in the future. We are currently studying every option and are open to any ideas you may have in addressing the problem, which isn’t a simple one.”

Smotherman hopes to persuade a group of Murfreesboro residents, many of whom exhibited displeasure with the additional fee, that even with the waste disposal fee increasing the cost of living for Murfreesboro homeowners, the city keeps taxes and fees to a minimum and does a lot with the funds it collects.

“Most of you pay more for your cellphone each month than you pay in city property taxes. For what you pay, you get one of the best parks and rec systems in the country, police protection, fire protection, lighted city streets, city schools, library, brush and trash pickup and much more,” Smotherman said.

An advisory panel of government and community leaders has formed to hash out some of the details of Murfreesboro’s waste disposal future, but a likely scenario would be to tack the monthly fee onto Murfreesboro water bills, according to city officials.

“At the present time the residents believe that garbage service is free, as they receive no bill for collection or using any of the convenience centers located in the City or County. Changing that perception will be very difficult,” according to a passage contained in the approved city budget.

Joe Liggett, who now lives in Rutherford County outside of the Murfreesboro city limits but owns rental houses within the city limits, said that he feels there is “so much waste” in Murfreesboro city government, and that adding a monthly fee to residents’ water bills would not be a fair move for the city to make.

“It’s an underhanded, sneaky way for the city to raise property taxes,” but done in such a way that still allows local officials to claim they are not raising property taxes, Liggett said. However, he continues, the $60 a year additional cost would raise the effective property tax paid by more than 20 percent for those who own the least expensive homes in the community.

Some homeowners say that the local government should begin collecting more money from its residents to cover the rising costs of waste disposal, others would rather move to a model that better promotes recycling waste, while others feel the sales and property taxes already provided to the City of Murfreesboro should be more than enough to fund effective waste management services for the city.

Michael Finchum – The city should seriously look into promoting recycling and not taxing the citizens. If a person recycles, they should not pay this $5 per can fee. This gives some incentive to recycle.

Shirley Wynne Watson – This is ridiculous. How is the sanitation department using the water and sewer department to take more money? We already pay taxes for pickup. . . . I have very little trash because we recycle. I would opt to take my own trash away.

Debra Jenereski – People, do you stop and think about the trash and the paint and chemicals going into our dirt and eventually our water system? The wildlife that dies in the oceans from pollution and contaminated land from the landfills? I don’t care if I pay $20 a month as long as there is a system to clean up what we are polluting. Stop being so cheap and think of our children’s futures

Teresa Rowland Parker – What is all the tax money going for? The people in the city pay their taxes, and that is partly to take care of the trash And now you’re asking for extra money each month for trash pickup. That is just plain BS!

Melandie Cooley-Hauenstein – How great it would be if we only paid for what we individually used. I only put my can on the curb every other week and it’s only half full. Guess I’ll start putting it out every week so I feel I’m getting my fee worth.

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Jim Crumley, Assistant City Manager with the City of Murfreesboro, took the time to answer some questions from the Murfreesboro Pulse on the $5 fee, and what the next steps are.

Murfreesboro Pulse: I understand there will soon be a $5 fee added to residents’ water bills. Is this correct?
Crumley:
City Council approved a $5 per month/per can Solid Waste Fee in the FY 2016–2017 budget. How to bill for the solid waste service is still being studied; however, an existing utility bill seems to be the best alternative.

When will this begin?
No time frame for implementation has been discussed, as the information technology specialists complete their implementation strategy.

What is the reasoning for placing that on the water bill? Will the water and sewer department oversee the implementation of a new waste disposal process now that the Middle Point Landfill is soon closing?
Both water and electric utility bills were examined as the vehicle for a solid waste fee. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Murfreesboro Electric is a close match with the city limits, but has 60,000 billing accounts compared to only 44,000 solid waste cans in the field. Their software is somewhat specialized to the electric industry.

Water and sewer billing would have to be split between Consolidated Utility District (CUD) and Murfreesboro Water and Sewer Department (MWSD) based on the current service boundaries. CUD and MWSD use billing software from the same vendor and CUD already bills sanitary sewer service for 19,000 Murfreesboro addresses.

Water and Sewer [Department] will have no operational control over the solid waste process. The utility may serve as the billing vehicle for the solid waste system.

Why have a separate $60 annual fee anyway, and not just use the funds collected from property and sales taxes to fund a solid waste program for Murfreesboro?
Several reasons. Many cities are establishing solid waste services as self-supporting enterprises, no different than electric or water/sewer services. Solid waste consultants Gershman, Brickner and Bratton (GBB) have been employed by all four cities and the Rutherford County government to study future solid waste disposal systems. This is one area they will be advising local governments on best practices.

Many Murfreesboro residents are interested in curbside recycling. While this service is part of the GBB study, there will be a cost for implementing and continuing such a program.

One of the discussion points of Council was to smooth out the cost of solid waste service to the customer instead of a single large fee increase. If the City Council chooses to operate solid waste as a self-supporting enterprise, then full-cost recovery for the current services provided (weekly garbage service, brush and leaf pickup and bulk items collected as requested) would be just over $10 per can per month. Recycling and future landfill costs might potentially add another $10 per month.

Lastly, the $5 per month/per can fee was meant to raise awareness of the looming issue of the closure of Middle Point. Neither the City nor Rutherford County have paid any landfill tipping fee for nearly 30 years, having negotiated no-charge service as a host fee for the landfill. When Middle Point closes, the existing city/county disposal bill goes from $0 to nearly $5 million. The billing provides a focal point for the needed conversations about Rutherford County’s solid waste disposal in the future.

Could this fee be optional if households find other alternatives for trash disposal, or is this a mandatory fee?
The fee could become optional if solid waste services are established as an enterprise.

I also understand that the process of a feasibility study for a new waste disposal solution is just getting underway. Is that right? When does the city council expect that report?
All four cities and Rutherford County have joined together to employ GBB to study the solid waste disposal future for the growing population. GBB is guided in this process by a 15-member advisory board appointed by each of the city and county mayors. GBB’s report is comprehensive in looking at how efficiently each community is currently collecting and disposing of solid waste to the eventual disposal of that waste. Currently Murfreesboro is the only city in Rutherford County providing curbside garbage service.

Study time is anticipated at being just over one year. (Results are expected in early 2018.)

Was there any discussion of cutting the budget of another city department in order to cover the cost of trash disposal for Murfreesboro residents?
No, there was no discussion of cutting other department budgets to cover Murfreesboro’s over-$2 million future cost of landfilling or of any city-sponsored recycling program. There is not that amount of budget flexibility available without major changes of services offered by the City.

From how many households will the $5 per month be collected?
There are approximately 44,000 cans collected by Murfreesboro Solid Waste Department each week. Not all of those accounts are only a single can, but does include some commercial/apartment uses with multiple cans per stop.

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If you have any more questions on the city’s solid waste disposal future, or on any other matters related to the City of Murfreesboro, contact Jim Crumley at jcrumley@murfreesborotn.gov.

Members of the advisory committee include:

Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess
Mike Kusch, Rutherford County Commissioner
Lynnisse Roehrich-Patrick, former Executive Director of Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations
Dr. Kathy Mathis, associate professor at MTSU
Merry Hickerson, Rutherford County County Highway Department coordinator
Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland
Kirt Wade, Murfreesboro City Council Member
Paul Latture, Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce
Joe Whitefield, Vice President for Facilities, MTSU
Jeremy Harrison, All in One Recycling
Kyle Brown, La Vergne Assistant City Administrator
Garlon Russell, La Vergne Public Works Manager
Harry Gill, Smyrna Town Manager
H.G. Cole, Smyrna City Council member
Eagleville City Manager Andrew Ellard

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About the Author

Bracken, a 2003 graduate of MTSU’s journalism program, is the founder and publisher of The Murfreesboro Pulse. He lives in Murfreesboro with his wife, graphic artist and business partner, Sarah, and son, Bracken Jr. Bracken enjoys playing the piano, sushi, Tool, football, chess, jogging, spending time in his backyard with his chickens, hippie music, climbing at The Ascent, bowling, swimming, soup, tennis, sunshine, revolution, defiance and anarchy. He can cook a mean grilled cheese, and can fry just about anything.

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