• $180 for all residential properties
• $240 for all commercial properties
• No fee for vacant lots with no road access
• $45 fee for vacant lots with road access
Source: East Ridge
After receiving dozens of complaints, East Ridge City Council members have told residents they will work to exempt certain property lots from the city's new sanitation fee.
About 20 people attended Thursday's City Council meeting solely to discuss the issue, arguing that they shouldn't have to pay the new fee on vacant, unimproved lots.
East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert said the council is drafting an ordinance to exempt some lots from the fee. The proposed solution includes completely waiving the fee for vacant lots with no road access and charging a reduced $45 fee for vacant lots with road access.
City Council members originally passed the charge -- $180 per residential property parcel -- in May after Tennessee American Water decided to stop attaching residents' garbage fees to water bills.
The fee is applied to all parcels of property -- including undeveloped lots, vacant lots and lots with no street access -- so residents are being billed for properties that usually don't need garbage or brush pickup.
Some council members agreed that the fee is unfair.
"It's like me charging you for a brand-new car and you don't have the car," Councilman Denny Manning said. "Like I say, 'You've got to pay me $500 a month for a car payment but you can't even drive the car.'"
Lambert said the extra charge is unintentional and that implementing the new sanitation fee system includes some trial and error. If the city passes the exemption, it will lose between $150,000 and $200,000 in expected revenue, City Manager Tim Gobble said.
The city needs to bring in $1.4 million in fees to meet the sanitation budget, Gobble said, and a $200,000 loss could mean the city won't break even.
"There's a little wiggle room in there," he told council members. "Can we absorb it? Maybe. I don't know."
Councilman Darwin Branam said he doesn't think the fee is fair and that it should be changed, but he's also worried about the budget.
"I'm concerned about the loss of revenue," he said. "I wanted to put the fee in the taxes so that all the services the city furnishes to residents would be included in the taxes. If we had done that, we would not have the mess we're in right now."
The council will vote on the ordinance at the next two City Council meetings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 8. Lambert said East Ridge residents who may be affected by the exemption should wait to pay their taxes until after the council makes a final decision on Nov. 8.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...