HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council budget committee Wednesday deferred a controversial proposal to create a $10-a-month garbage collection fee on Oahu, leaving a $20-million hole in the city budget just two days before Mayor Kirk Caldwell delivers his budget plan to the council.
The Caldwell administration proposed charging the trash fee that would be paid through property tax bills, but it faced overwhelming opposition.
"Once it was added to the property tax, what's to stop them from increasing it next year or the year after?" asked Barbra Armentrout of St. Louis Heights, who testified before the council budget committee Wednesday.
Caldwell officials said Oahu's $10 fee would much lower than Kauai's monthly trash fee of $36 or Maui's $18 fee and would cover just 20 percent of the cost of trash collection.
"People have grown accustomed to it and they feel they are entitled to it for free. But our cost of services are going up, everything goes up, the parts to replace on our vehicles, the fuel costs," said Lori Kahikina, director of the city's environmental services department.
Oahu businesses and nonprofits would pay more: $75 per trash can per month or $314 per dumpster.
"It's a slippery slope of fees that actually contribute to nonprofit overhead and increased business costs. This type of overhead expense is very hard to recoup in fundraising initiatives," said Lisa Maruyama, president of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations.
But the council budget committee killed the proposal, saying they've heard loud opposition from their constituents.
"Especially the elderly who say, for $10, it doesn't sound like much, ten dollars a month. But for many people it makes a big difference between medicine and food," said Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi.
Council members worried that people who opt out of the fee could sneak and throw trash into a neighbor's garbage can.
"As I'm driving out to work, I'm going to dump my rubbish in my neighbor's can down the street, I don't live right next to my neighbor, but down the street. I leave 4:30 in the morning. Nobody's going to see me," said Council Chairman Ernie Martin.
Kahikina answered: "If the neighbor knows that their neighbor is doing that, notify us and we do have inspectors that we can enforce on this, because that is not allowed."
Council member Carol Fukunaga also opposed the fee.
"There will be people avoiding the fee, there will be people who will be abusing it. And the experience that residents are conveying is that they haven't seen the city being able to enforce existing prohibitions," Fukunaga said, adding that people "have no confidence" the fee will be enforced effectively.
The garbage fee would have brought in $20 million a year, so Caldwell now needs to raise other revenues or cut the budget to make up that amount. By killing the proposal immediately, the council tried to force Caldwell to adjust his budget proposal that he will deliver to council members on Friday, giving him just two days to come up with the difference. By law, the mayor must deliver a balanced budget to the council by March 1 each year.
But in a statement, the mayor's spokesman said while Caldwell is "disappointed" in the committee's action, he will still include his garbage fee proposal in his budget plan. If the council doesn't want the fee, it will have to come up with $20 million in new revenues or cuts, the spokesman said.
Kahikina said the city may have to eliminate or start charging for the city's free monthly bulky item pickup for old sofas, appliances and other big items.
"We provide it for free every month as much as you want that we go and collect it. And I think that's just a too-high level of service," Kahikina said.
Bulky item pickup costs roughly $2 million a year, city officials said, just a fraction of the $20 million dollar hole in the budget left by the failed garbage fee proposal.
The administration of former Mayor Jeremy Harris proposed creating a garbage fee more than a decade ago, but it too was voted down by council members.
Oahu did have a garbage fee for a four-year period between 1956 and 1959, when residents paid $12 a year for trash pickup, city officials said.