published Saturday, September 29th, 2012

East Ridge residents seek to kill trash fee for vacant lots

Debbie Moorefield doesn't have a problem paying East Ridge $180 each year to collect the garbage at her house. But she's not happy East Ridge billed her another $180 for garbage pickup at the empty, grassy lot she owns — because there's no garbage to pick up.

Moorefield and other East Ridge residents packed the City Council meeting this week and argued that they shouldn't have to pay East Ridge's new sanitation fee on vacant, unimproved pieces of property.

City council members passed the charge — $180 for homeowners and up to $730 for apartment and duplex owners — in May after Tennessee American Water Co. decided to stop attaching residents' garbage fees to water bills.

Property owners received the bills, attached to their property taxes, earlier this week.

The problem, residents said, is that the fee is applied to all parcels of property — including undeveloped lots, vacant lots and lots with no street access — properties that usually don't need garbage or brush pickup.

Also, because the city is charging the fee per parcel, landowners who own two adjacent parcels are charged for each one.

East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert told residents city officials will consider crafting an exception for undeveloped lots.

"The issue is on the radar," he said. "We'll address it and bring it back."

During the council agenda session, City Manager Tim Gobble warned the council against making an exception for vacant lots because the expected revenue from the fee already has been factored into East Ridge's approved budget.

The mayor estimated there are between 500 and 700 unimproved lots in the city. Some are small slivers of land with no street access while others are large, undeveloped properties.

If all of those lots are exempted from the fee, the city will lose between $90,000 to $126,000 in expected revenue. That means city officials will have to cut expenses to keep the budget balanced.

"It's definitely going to be something that the budget manager, city manager and city attorney are going to have to look at and advise us on how to proceed from here," Lambert said.

East Ridge resident Frances Pope said making an exception for vacant lots will be difficult at this point.

"The tax bills have already gone out," she said. "This should have been addressed in the beginning before the bills were sent out."

City council members will consider whether to change the fee requirements at their next meeting on Oct. 11.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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