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Mayor calls on council to raise fees

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

The city of Charleston must raise some of its fees, and Mayor Danny Jones said he wants it to happen by next July.

“We’re going to raise the fees. We’re going to raise something. We have to raise something,” Jones said, addressing members of the Finance Committee.

Jones wants to focus on the refuse fee, as well as the fire fee that hasn’t been raised since the 1980s, he said.

“We don’t have any way around this,” Jones said.

Council members in March approved a budget for the 2015 fiscal year that used nearly $1.1 million as a kind of cushion following a project $2.9 million shortfall.

Referring to the city’s uniformed pension plans, Jones said its $500,000 annual obligation will continue to stress its pocketbook.

“We have a plan in place to fix it, but as the years go by, it’s going to be more and more and more,” Jones said. “We’re okay with that, but fees are going to be raised long after I’m gone and that’s going to have to be dealt with.”

Also Monday, City Council voted to continue Charleston’s refuse and recycling bag contract with North Carolina-based WasteZero for the second consecutive year. The bags will be thicker than last year’s, which ward 3 Councilman Joe Denault described as “miserable,” but area retailers will still distribute them.

“As you all know, it didn’t go as smoothly at first, the initial transition, because everybody was used to getting their bags in one big haul one time a year,” City Manager David Molgaard said of last year’s challenges.

City Council voted last summer to make the switch from using its own employees to collect vouchers and hand out the bags twice a year in order to save money, about $35,000.

Before privatizing distribution, residents could drive to the distribution point, which was usually under Interstate 64 at Pennsylvania Avenue, and trade their vouchers for bags that were then loaded into their cars by city workers.

Dennis Wise, vice president of WasteZero’s supplies group, told members of the Finance Committee Monday “a comedy of errors” during the first distribution were remedied by the second bag shipment.

“[Retailers] didn’t really believe what we were telling them about what to expect from a rush about residents coming in and wanting to get these bags. They believed us after the first couple of weeks, because your folks are so used to getting their bags at one time, they literally descended on the retailers at one time,” Wise said.

Following the change, several stores in Charleston had trouble keeping bags on the shelves as more and more customers tried to exchange their vouchers for them.

Ward 15 Councilman Courtney Persinger suggested the city issue bids for bags on a “per unit” basis after Molgaard told him Charleston isn’t reimbursed for surplus bags — those not picked up by residents — at the end of the distribution period. Molgaard said the city issues bids requesting a number of bags that will supply households paying the refuse fee for the year.

“That needs some work,” Persinger said. “If people like me don’t want to go get them [the bags], then the city can save some money.”

The city’s contract with WasteZero will cost $390,000.

In other business, council Monday:

n Passed a redistricting bill that will decrease Charleston’s wards from 21 to 20. At-large council seats won’t be affected, but the West Side will lose one representative in the 2015 municipal election.

n Changed the scope for two Community Grant Participation grants received by the Kanawha City Community Association. The association wants to use the money — $22,000 in total — to complete projects outlined in the MacCorckle Avenue Master Plan, such as design work, creation of renderings and cost analysis.

n Amended the General Budget fund to eliminate one route driver position and add one route laborer position in the Refuse and Recycling department.

Another budget amendment was made to correct the debt service amount for the Center for Arts and Science and Public Safety building at Dudley Farms.

n Changed the city’s summer paving plan to include six additional streets: Chesterfield Avenue from South Park Road to Chappell Road; Copenhaver Drive from Griffin Drive to School Street; Griffin Drive from Washington Street to cul-de-sac; Hutchinson Street from Copenhaver Drive to cul-de-sac; Lippert Street from Griffin Drive to Copenhaver Drive; and, Barlow Drive from Twilight Drive to the city limits. The contract price will increase from $1,337,850 to $1,662,850.

n Heard concerns from ward 9 Councilman Cubert Smith about the amount of plastic collecting at Slack Street — the area’s recycling center.

Smith said he was concerned the plastic could pose a hazard to residents if it somehow caught on fire. Councilwoman at-large Kasey Russell, who also serves on the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority, said the Ohio company that normally purchases recycling from the facility stopped delivering payments. George Hunyadi, who owns and operates West Virginia Recycling Services at Slack Street, has been in contact with the city and fire department about the mounting plastic and is also working to distribute the recyclables to other companies.

Reach Rachel Molenda

at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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