LINDEN, NJ — Linden has put forth an ordinance to repeal its garbage fee which, if passed, will go into effect in January 2018.
Ordinance No. 61-50 seeks to repeal Ordinance No. 57-25, the “Garbage Collection Annual Surcharge,” which was implemented in 2013. The new ordinance was introduced at the July 18 meeting of the Linden City Council and approved unanimously by all 11 council members on first reading. The council will vote on the ordinance at next month’s council meeting.
The $10 per month fee brought approximately $1.6 million into the city each year, according to city officials.
At the July 18 meeting, Mayor Derek Armstead said the city had made a mistake by implementing the fee in the first place.
“In 2013, the governing body here in Linden implemented what I think, to me, was one of the most unfair taxes that this city really has ever encountered,” Armstead said. “That was the garbage fee. We did so because there was a 2-percent cap that was implemented by Gov. Christie. Somehow we just couldn’t seem to balance our budget and so what we did was implement a garbage fee.”
Armstead was referring to the 2-percent cap on property taxes implemented by Gov. Chris Christie, and stated that the city had to work around the cap.
“In essence, what we did was circumvent the law by giving you an increase over 2 percent with the garbage fee,” he said. “Whether I’m in the supermarket or whether I’m on Wood Ave., it seems to me that every resident in this town who pays property taxes is concerned about their garbage fee.”
According to Armstead, the city’s elected officials promised the tax would be revoked.
“I think that, up until this point, we have let the residents down,” Armstead said at the meeting, stating that he was directing the council to repeal the garbage fee. “What this means, essentially, is that if we eliminate this tax, it means that the finance department in this town, as well as the governing body in this town, would basically have to sharpen their pencils because removal of this tax is going to man the elimination of $1.6 million that we receive in revenue.”
At the meeting, 5th Ward Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling said she was against the garbage tax when it was first introduced in 2013.
“I totally didn’t agree with the garbage tax,” Cosby-Hurling said. “I voted ‘no’ for this and it’s funny, we’re voting to get rid of it. All I’m going to say is that when I make my recommendations for next year’s budget to get rid of some of the positions and some of the perks, that everybody needs to remember that there’s a million dollars going to be missing.”
And 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey spoke up about the fact that council members who are not members of Armstead’s faction were not told about the ordinance prior to the July 18 meeting.
“I wish we would have had a little teamwork and the council working together instead of these surprises all the time,” Hickey said at the meeting. “Then again, next year is an election year.”
Hickey said at the meeting that removing the garbage fee was “wonderful,” but also stated that she was concerned about the decision.
“I’m going to be honest. This decision was made without consulting with professionals and our CFO, and $1.6 million is a lot of money. My concern is our employees; my concern is our police and firemen. It’s a drastic amount of money to take away so quickly, especially when our professionals, I don’t believe, were consulted. When you’re talking about $1.6 million, it should be something to be discussed in front of council instead of just earning people’s love with something that may hurt us more than it benefits us down the road.”
At the meeting, 3rd Ward Councilman Peter Brown Jr., who is on the city’s finance committee, said the city’s tax rate has increased 104 percent since 2006, and that residents need relief.
According to Brown, the funds the garbage fee brought in is less than 1 percent of the city’s budget.
“It’s time for us to get the job done,” Brown said at the meeting. “It’s enough talk and we just need to get it done.”
The city will be able to handle the repeal of the tax, 2nd Ward Councilman Barry Javick told LocalSource.
“The garbage fee was never meant to be permanent — it was introduced as a temporary fix,” Javick said in a July 19 email. “It represents less than 1 percent of our $109 million budget. The city of Linden has an ‘AA’ bond rating, and this is due to the fact that we have managed the city finances very well. We will not have any loss of our services. It was literally time; the residents could not afford this anymore. The city of Linden will pass a balanced budget, like it has every year. My confidence runs high.”
In response to comments at the meeting from some council members who said they had not been informed about the new ordinance, Armstead said that he felt that opposition council members would possibly try to impede the passage of the ordinance.
“I say potato, you say potato,” Armstead said at the meeting. “I say tomato, you say tomato. I suspected that if I ever brought this in front of the entire council, there would have been a whole conversation about why we shouldn’t do it, and I just decided to go ahead and just do it and get it over with.”
Council President Jorge Alvarez told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that if the city can financially handle repealing the garbage fee, he supports it.
“If it doesn’t affect our taxes next year, then yes, 100 percent,” Alvarez said. “It’s a fee that shouldn’t have been put in place in 2013. It was something that I was fighting for.”
Alvarez said all council members have been against the garbage fee and questioned Armstead’s reasoning behind not informing the entire council of the ordinance prior to the July 18 meeting.
“They told us they didn’t want to tell us because they thought we’d fight against it,” Alvarez said. “Come on, cut the crap. If it’s good for the residents, then I want it.”
Although Cosby-Hurling supports the ordinance, she believes the move was a political stunt.
“We have a caucus meeting on purpose,” she told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “We should have conversations about what’s going on. This is a campaign tactic, there are no two ways about it. Every single year since the garbage tax was introduced, no one took a hard look at anything that would offset the fees, not even a minute amount. Without a conversation with the governing body, Peter Brown decided to introduce the ordinance.”
In a recent phone interview with LocalSource, Armstead said that he believes that the city can make up the lost revenue.
“I feel very confident that we’ll be able to fill that gap,” he said. “We’re going to steer the council in the direction to make everybody accountable. The finance department is going to have to sharpen their pencils and work harder to close the gap. Eliminating the garbage tax is one of the reasons I ran for mayor; it’s a commitment that I made to the residents of the community.”
Brown told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that the mayor is fulfilling his promise to residents.
“This was a promise that the mayor made,” Brown said. “This isn’t a political issue. He’s taking action; he’s sick of the rhetoric.”
Armstead said, “I want to thank council members for putting residents first.”