Bucks for Books

Ward 7 City Councilor Tim Allen has an intriguing idea: using a trash-fee increase to keep open three library branches slated to close under the fiscal 2013 municipal budget.

Allen is proposing that the trash fee be increased by $15—from $75 to $90—with a portion of the money used to save the East Forest Park, Liberty Heights and Pine Point libraries. Mayor Domenic Sarno had proposed closing those three branches to save money. The Council recently voted to approve Sarno’s proposed budget.

But councilors still need to vote on two proposals in the mayor’s budget: a $10 increase in the trash fee and a hike to the city’s hotel tax, from four percent to six percent. Sarno’s budget assumed both of those increases; if not approved by the Council, his administration says, the city will have to lay off workers and cut some services. Councilors will take up both proposals at a City Hall meeting at 5:30 this evening.

Under Allen’s plan, the trash fee would go up not Sarno’s proposed $10, but $15, with the additional $5 going to the libraries.

The Council recently voted against a proposal by the Sarno administration to increase the fee by $10; Allen’s idea represents a compromise, giving Sarno an estimated $400,000 for the general fund while earmarking the remaining $200,000 for the libraries.

Will Allen’s colleagues get on board with the idea? That depends on where they assume their constituents are (and that assumes, of course, that they’re doing their jobs and listening to their constituents): Will councilors vote bearing in mind residents who already object to having to pay to have their trash hauled away—a service that used to be included in their overall tax bill—and just can’t bear the thought of another rising bill? Or will they vote on the assumption that people are willing to pay a little more knowing that the money will go to support such a worthy cause as the city’s library system? Certainly, for library lovers at least, there’d something satisfyingly concrete about knowing that extra money would go to keep neighborhood branches open, rather than to pay some overcompensated bureaucrat, or to provide city cars to employees who you don’t really think need them, or whatever your city-budget pet peeve might be.

In this morning’s Republican, Sarno—who would also need to sign off on the plan—tells reporter Pete Goonan that he’ll wait to see how the Council votes on Allen’s proposal before weighing in on the idea.

Author: On Springfield

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