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Jacksonville, FL (February 14, 2022) – Lately, there has been much discussion about the future of Solid Waste collection in Jacksonville.  From recycling to the frequency of collections, Jacksonville has had its share of issues along with many other cities nationally.  The city recently announced a return of recycling after giving time for the city’s three contracted waste haulers a chance to catch up on the backlog of garbage and yard waste.  To that end, there is even more discussion taking place regarding where the money to pay our Solid Waste contracts comes from and “Is it truly solvent or not”?

On February 10th, 2022, Nate Monroe of the Florida Times Union published the article titled “Council Has No One to Blame for Jax Trash Woes but Itself”, blaming city officials for “bankrupting the fund that pays for trash pickup over the course of several years.”  The article, however, had inaccuracies and certainly directed you towards a conclusion that is plain out false. I will work to provide the complete story and correct “for the record”, the truth.

The City of Jacksonville, during Consolidation established a Solid Waste Enterprise Fund to manage the revenue and expenses of our solid waste services. In the first 35 years for which this fund existed, revenue came directly from the General Fund as a basic service of government funded by your property tax dollars. In 2007 through ordinance 2007-837-E, the funding was changed to a Solid Waste Non-Ad Valorem Fee as a result of the Florida State Legislature substantially restricting local property tax revenue increases, requiring a millage rate rollback and limiting millage rate increases into the future. This Solid Waste fee was created at a rate of $3 per month ($36 per year), to increase $1 per month per year from October 1, 2008, until a time when the proceeds of the fee covered the costs of collection, disposal, and administration for residential solid waste services up to a maximum of $10 per month ($120 per year).

In 2010, following a fee review, the City Council through ordinance 2010-216-E increased the Solid Waste fee again but also changed it to an Ad Valorem Fee. This raised the monthly expense to $12.65 ($151.80 per year) effective October 1, 2010, and this also allowed the fee to be collected on the property tax assessment bill ensuring its yearly collection. In essence, this fee in its creation in 2007 and increased in 2010 was identified by taxpayers as a tax increase, disguised and broken out as a new fee, and added along with another fee – “COJ Stormwater”.  At the end of the day, these expenses are funded by the taxpayer, collectively, as revenue for city services.

Since 2010, this fee has never been increased, but unfortunately our solid waste services have increased in cost.  In the past six years since I have been on City Council, our primary source of revenue, property taxes (the General Fund), and all other revenue we collect from state sales taxes, fees, etc. has increased by over $350 million dollars per year and is still growing, and let’s not forget the recent increase approved by City Council in doubling the Gas Tax.

During this time of increased revenue, it has been a decision by our City Council to not increase the Solid Waste fee and instead fund (subsidize) the added expenses for Solid Waste Services from the yearly increases of our General Fund.  As a result, the solid waste expenses have been getting paid (fully) but from two sources: the Solid Waste Fee and the continual increases of revenue within our General Fund.

The confusion and distortion of this matter comes from our accounting process.  As a result of the city’s inter-local agreements with the beach cities of Atlantic and Neptune Beach, our City Council Auditors require us to call the funding (subsidy) from the General Fund a “loan”, but is it really a loan?  If it’s a real loan then you owe someone, but in this case the only parties to be paid back would be you the taxpayer. Do you actually think that you will get a refund check from the city?  So, the basic choice is to pay this expense by increasing the Solid Waste Fee or continue to fund this expense by those increases in revenue that seems to be always growing year after year due to increased property values and from the strong economic growth within our city and state.

The inter-local agreements, according to the Council Auditors, requires the city to designate this revenue a loan which is provided by the General Fund, due to the beach community’s requirement for paying tipping fees.  According to this interpretation of those agreements, if we were to do away with the loan designation, the City of Jacksonville would lose that portion of revenue that the beaches provide.

In this council year, a Special Committee on Solid Waste was convened looking into our Solid Waste services and the costs associated with the added expenses from our waste hauler contracts and the increased costs from recycling. In that discussion, the focus again will be to increase the Solid Waste fee.  It was just in 2020, ordinance 2020-696 was introduced to do just that.  In the end, by a vote of 3-16, the Bill failed, and left the funding as described in place. What will this new committee recommend and ultimately decide as to give another try at increasing this Solid Waste fee?  My recommendation – if you increase this fee, then reduce the millage rate proportionately to offset any increase.  Because in the end, what is happening is that money is being taken from one pocket and moving it to another. Anything less is just raising your taxes!

Solid Waste Enterprise Fund subsidized as a Loan as follows:

 

2017/2018      $  3,058,842

2018                $  8.250,000 (Ord. 2018-458-E)

2018/2019      $  5,538,779

2019/2020      $                  0

2020/2021      $  6,420,340

2021/2022      $  7,750,065

                        =========

Total               $31,018,026

Other expenses within our city budget that are subsidized (not as an Enterprise Fund):

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By Joe Johnson, District 11 Executive Council Assistant and CM Danny Becton.