Plan to charge for bulk trash decried
Mandatory fee would hit owners of condos and townhomes.
Atlanta officials say they are running a deficit for trash collection, with the cost of the service outpacing the fees charged.
By J. Scott Trubey

Atlanta condominium residents are angered by the city’s plan to collect new fees to pick up bulk trash, saying many already pay private firms for the service.

The city has given shifting explanations to justify the fees and hasn’t been clear about the new service residents would be billed for each year — whether they use it or not, critics say. The Atlanta City Council could vote on amendments to its fee and service plan at its Monday meeting.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office didn’t make anyone available to comment.

The proposed mandatory fee for bulk waste pickups would affect condo buildings and townhome developments. Condo owners would pay about $60 a year for collections of bulk items, such as furniture and appliances. Fees for street and right-of-way cleaning would rise from about $9 per year to about $60.

Bills are expected to be mailed in July.

Condo owners typically pay for trash collection and bulk waste service from private haulers who have contracts with their buildings.

Ben Howard, president of the Buckhead Condo Alliance, called the city’s plan “halfbaked” and wants the council to delay voting on it. The city hasn’t justified the fees for picking up bulk items, and questions remain about the service the city will offer to condo owners, he said.

He said the city hasn’t responded to several requests made under the Georgia Open Records Act for documents.

Garbage and recycling fees haven’t kept pace with the city’s costs, and the city is budgeting deficits for both programs this year.

Atlanta’s solid waste rates haven’t changed in 15 years, said City Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents Buckhead and chairs the public works committee.

The city’s trash program has run at a deficit for several years, even though fees are supposed to cover expenses.

Those shortfalls have drained about $34 million in revenue from the general fund.

Matzigkeit said his committee sent public works back to the drawing board to draft a fair rate system after backlash to rates council approved in November. The changes to be considered Monday would reduce what condo owners were once slated to pay by 70 percent. Condo owners have been charged only about $9 annually for street cleaning services for years, far less than the cost to the city.

“I appreciate that it’s a significant increase from where they are today, but my goal is to be sure the fee charged going forward is fair and reflects the costs of the services that are delivered,” he said. He also said in some parts of the city, condos dump bulk waste on the street and the city can’t let that go.

In November, the council approved new rates for commercial and residential customers.

Single-family homes, for instance, will pay about $454 a year for weekly trash service, recycling and up to 12 yearly bulk pickups. That’s about a $9 per year increase.

As part of those citywide rate changes, the city said it would offer bulk waste service for the first time for tens of thousands of condo and townhome owners. The service was to come with a $400 annual flat fee “per parcel,” but the Department of Public Works interpreted that as per unit and not per parcel of land.

After condo owners complained, public works agreed to amend its proposed fees for such parcels.

Howard says Atlanta is unfairly looking to condo owners as a new source of revenue. The city is still budgeting deficits in garbage and recycling services, and sticking it to condo owners for bulk services many won’t use won’t fix the problem, he said.

“It went from condos are definitely being overcharged,” he said, “to the whole system appears to be broken.”