Future of Columbia's trash bag program in question

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COLUMBIA - The future of Columbia's trash bag voucher program is in question, as City Manager Mike Matthes' proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year has the program on the chopping block.

Currently, the city mails trash bag vouchers to residents three times a year. They can then be redeemed for 25 black trash bags and 18 blue recyclable bags at 13 different locations across town.  

"We use those vouchers frequently," said Nancy Wainscott, a Columbia resident. "The reason we do that is we feel like we get better bags using the vouchers than we do when we buy store bought bags."

"The solid waste budget is in jeopardy. Spending exceeds revenue, and the utility is running out of reserves," Matthes said in a July letter to the Mayor and City Council. He proposed four actions to reach a balanced solid waste budget:

  • Use of debt, rather than cash, to fund capital improvements
  • Increased rates for commercial and CID customers
  • Higher landfill fees over two years to meet the market rate
  • and end the trash bag voucher program

Matthes says these changes will keep the utility funded for a couple more years, and require no residential rate increase. Specifically, Matthes says cutting out the black trash bag program would save the solid waste utility more than $300,000 annually.

"I agree that Columbia should discontinue the bag program," Lauren Brown said in response to a KOMU 8 News Facebook post. "However, only after implementing both rolling trash bins and rolling recycle bins. This will benefit us environmentally and financially over time. Plus, our streets will be cleaner with less risk of wind and animals distributing our curbside refuse."

"People that want to recycle will, with or without the free bags," Kelli L. Elliot said in response to a KOMU 8 News Facebook post. "People that want their garbage picked up will put it at the curb, with or without the free bags. I am sure they never were free, the cost was worked into the price of service somewhere."

Columbia's residential collection rates break down like this:

  • $15.42 for residents who get bags
  • $14.67 for residents who do not get bags, but pay their own trash
  • $14.42 for residents who do not get bags, but landlord pays trash

On Facebook last week, Mayor Robert (Bob) McDavid asked his 1,600 friends to decide between three options to fix the bag voucher problem:

  • Columbia continues the vouchers, but rates increase by $1.58
  • Residents buy their own trash bags
  • The city implements a "rolling trash can" system

"I'm tired of seeing trash-littered streets," said Kevin Brown in response to a KOMU 8 News Facebook post. "Discontinue bags and give us bins." 

Matthes' letter to the council also addressed a bin system as a possible option moving forward. 

The Columbia City Council will hear the issue during its regular meeting Tuesday, September 2, at 7 p.m.