The town of Signal Mountain is throwing out a proposed garbage fee for a 15-cent property tax increase instead. The council will take its first vote on the matter at its rescheduled June 20 meeting at 6:30 p.m.
"I think we can all handle that and at least it's fair," Vice Mayor Susan Robertson said, referencing negative feedback she's gotten about a flat garbage fee universally applied. "It's got to happen; we have to do something. It seems like as much as we save things just keep going up."
The town faces a nearly $317,000 shortfall since repairs to Town Hall are more extensive than originally thought and will now be included in a budget year full of other unanticipated changes. The town previously faced an approximately $204,000 deficit.
"Cutting any further from the budget would eliminate some services some people have come to expect and want from the town," Councilwoman Annette Allen said. "Nobody wants to pay more taxes but I see it as a necessity. It should keep us in good shape for several years."
The last tax increase - not counting the citizen-elected increase to pay for Signal Mountain Middle High School - was in 2002.
Town Manager Honna Rogers named rising fuel and 9-1-1 service prices, the implementation of a required radio contract with the county and of charging for services from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, the loss of some Hall tax revenue and the matching $80,000 required to capitalize on a 50/50 grant to repair the pool as other contributors to this year's deficit.
"A lot of people expressed to me that if you need the money just go on and raise taxes rather than kind of nickel and diming us to death on fees," said Councilman Bill Wallace. "I hate doing either one of them, but I think [a tax increase] would be better in the long run."
Rogers said a tax increase would likely have been considered had the deficit not risen, but a lower amount would have been needed. Garbage fees must be self-supporting, not revenue-building.
"A sanitation fund is a non profit-making thing; somehow it got all mixed up in the deficit," Robertson said.
That's not to say the idea of implementing a garbage fee has been tossed out completely.
"I know the ultimate goal was to get to a 'pay as you throw' garbage program," Rogers said. "That was the first step in that direction. I think they're going to wait and do a little more research before anything is done with it."
Robertson said they will likely try to figure out a way to weigh garbage and charge each household based on the amount.