LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Lufkin City Council has voted to raise the solid waste fee in order to keep the city's recycling program alive.
The council approved the measure in a first reading unanimously at Tuesday night's meeting after discussing it for about 30 minutes. The fee will go up a dollar, to $15.48 per household. The measure is expected to bring around $144,000 a year. Although they could not vote on an amendment for the 2018 fiscal budget, Lufkin City Manager Keith Wright said the outlook is to have another rate increase 12 months from now.
During the discussion several council members offered their opinions on the matter.
"I think we do need something,"member Robert Shankle said.
"I have not heard from anyone that they want the program taken away," member Guessipina Bonner said. "I have also not heard anyone say they are willing to see an increase in their fee. You Can't have it both ways where you want to keep it but you don't want to pay for it.
One resident raised concerns about removing curbside recycling.
"I have an elderly grandmother who does not have a car," he said. "How is she going to be able to go to a drop off location? Also the fee. What's not to stop in two years to say you need another increase?"
Council members even offered other suggestions for the program.
"What if we divided the city into two sections and instead of going every week, we go every other week;" member Mark Hicks asked.
One resident said the fee may look like a lot but he is willing to pay it to not have to travel to a drop-off site.
"I'm willing to pay if it is a little extra. One dollar or two dollars next year. it's okay because I would spend more than that to drive out to the site."
Member Sarah Murray said her concern is for the residents that use the program.
"We are here for the people," Murray said. "We are not here for us to make money. I am up here to make sure that the people I serve are getting what we can do."
The fee increase will be the first since 1999. City officials determined a rate increase would be necessary in order to keep the recycling program going.
In attendance at the meeting was representatives from Angelina Beautiful/Clean, a local non-profit that is an advocate for recycling and the beautification of the county.
"We didn't want the program to go away as a whole," Director Meagan Prejean said. "Obviously we are for recycling. We want our stewards in East Texas to take responsibility and recycle... We understand that the city has a fiscal responsibility in this."
Prejean was satisfied to see the program stay considering one of the options was to scrap the program all together.
"In our region, there is Lufkin, Huntsville and Tyler that have a program like this," Prejean said. "We are very lucky in a community of our size to have this program."
The city council made the decision based off of a survey they put up on the city website. The survey was only filled out by about two percent of eligible participants. Concerned citizens believe more education is needed.
"It is disturbing that it is a low response rate," Hillary Walker said. "it is not surprising. A lot of people saw it but did not get the message and that is part of the problem. it's difficult to get the message out but I am happy that the people who did take the survey responded in a positive way."
The rate increase will need to be voted on one more time. If passed, it will go into effect on Oct. 1 and will run until Sept. 31, 2017. Walker is hoping that a more permanent solution can be made for the program that will give long term stability.
"I think it will continue to come up as long as there is a budget shortfall in that line item in the budget," Walker said. "It's going to take more research. it is going to take the council digging in on some numbers."