After about 10 weeks of hearings and dozens of hours of debate, Columbus Council approved a $265.7 million budget for fiscal 2016 today without discussion.
Minutes later, while voting on ordinances enacting parts of the budget, they spent 45 minutes haggling over the use of plastic bags for yard waste before coming to an inconclusive vote, which means they will have to consider it again next week.
The $265,724,993 budget is just $48,037 higher than Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s proposed budget of $265,676,956, but there were several substantive changes in the budget.
Councilors blocked Tomlinson’s effort to transfer funding for eight sheriff’s office investigators to the police department, restored funding for three sheriff’s office SWAT positions and restored funding for three of six marshal’s office deputies that Tomlinson had cut.
Two changes in the way the city collects refuse survived the process -- cutting trash pickup from twice to once a week, which will start Sept. 14, and stopping the recycling of glass, which will start July 6. A third change, banning the use of plastic bags for yard waste, is up in the air even after today’s 45-minute debate.
Currently, residents can use plastic bags to hold grass clippings and other yard waste and place them at the curb for weekly pickup. Because it is against the law to put plastic bags in inert landfills, inmates on the trucks must use a boxcutter to cut open the bags, dump the contents into the truck, then stuff the bag into another plastic bag for transport to the citys main landfill.
This, according to Public Works Director Pat Biegler, slows the pickup process considerably and costs the taxpayers thousands of dollars for the boxcutters and bags, gas, time and vehicle wear to transport the bags to the landfill. The bags also add to the of non-biodegradable mass in the landfill.
Councilor Glenn Davis, who has fought the plastic bag ban from the beginning, made a motion to remove the ban from the ordinance.
“I still think we may be moving a little too fast on this matter,” Davis said. “I think this is something that we can can continue to look into in time, so I’m going to ask for reconsideration one more time.”
Councilor Mike Baker defended the ban, saying that it was a way to save money by addressing inefficiencies, which is something council often asks the city administration to do.
“My concern is we’ve asked the city manager many times to ask his department heads to review every part of their operations for inefficiencies, and that’s what director Biegler has done,” Baker said. “She’s done what we’ve asked departments to do. That’s my concern, addressing the inefficiency that’s been going on.”
Davis said in a previous meeting that he would rather see an increase in the garbage fee than what he considers a cutback in city services. Baker addressed a possible fee increase by saying it would be tantamount to subsidizing an inefficient process rather than making it efficient.
“If we’re going to have a fee increase in the future, and we probably are, it’s going have to be for reserve for capital replacement, reserve for landfill closure and monitoring post-closure,” Baker said. “Those are big-ticket things that we’re not addressing. That’s where the money needs to go. I don’t think it needs to go to supplement an inefficient collection model.”
Davis countered, calling the ban an “indirect tax.”
“What you’re doing here really is eliminating a service that’s been provided to the citizens for a long time,” Davis said. “And in my opinion, it’s an indirect tax on the citizens, and you’re heaping a cost of living increase on the citizens.”
In the end Davis’ motion to eliminate the ban from the ordinance failed by an inconclusive 5-3 vote, with Davis, Judy Thomas,Tom Buck, Mimi Woodson and Gary Allen voting for it and Baker, Pops Barnes and Evelyn Turner-Pugh voting against. Councilors Skip Henderson and Bruce Huff were absent.
That brought the original ordinance to the table, where it also failed on an inconclusive 5-3 vote, with Baker, Barnes, Allen, Woodson and Turner-Pugh voting for it and Thomas, Davis and Buck voting against.
The ordinance will be brought back up at council’s next meeting, Tuesday, June 23 at 5:30 p.m.