Alabaster approves garbage and sewer rate increases

Alabaster residents next month will begin paying more for garbage and sewer service after the Alabaster City Council voted to pass a pair of rate increases during its Oct. 1 meeting.

Beginning Nov. 1, city residents will pay about $3 more per month for sewer service, and about $1.60 more per month for garbage collection.

During the meeting, the City Council agreed to raise the monthly sewer flat fee from $17.50 and $1.85 per 1,000 gallons used to $19 and $2.15 per 1,000 gallons used. The city officials also voted to raise the monthly garbage collection fee from $12.41 to $13.99.

As part of the motion, the council also agreed to increase the sewer rates by about the same amount in 2011 and 2012.

According to the council, the rate increases will help combat the rising cost of providing the services, and will allow the city to renovate some of its aging sewer facilities.

“The sewer department is not a profit-making entity. We just want it to pay for itself,” said Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals. “That’s where we try to put the rates.

“It’s painfully apparent that the sewer system is not paying for itself right now,” Ryals added. “The garbage rate increase is directly attributed to the rising cost of providing that service.”

The sewer rate increase passed unanimously, but the garbage rate increase met with some council resistance, narrowly passing on a 4-3 split vote. Ward 2 Councilman Bob Hicks, Ward 5 Councilman and Board President Jim McClain, Ward 6 Councilman Scott Brakefield and Ryals voted in favor of the garbage rate increase. Ward 1 Councilwoman Sophie Martin, Ward 3 Councilman Adam Moseley and Ward 4 Councilman Rick Walters voted against the garbage rate increase.

“I am opposed to the garbage fee increase at this time,” Walters said. “This proposal covers the cost of picking up not only curbside garbage, but also limbs, grass and other debris left on the side of the road.

“In the past, that kind of debris pickup was paid for by the city out of the general fund,” Walters added. “We are taking what the city has paid for from day one and putting that cost on the residents.”

Martin and Moseley voiced similar sentiments, asking the council to postpone the rate increase for about six months. The three council members’ comments echoed those of the lone resident who spoke during a public hearing on the matter, which was held before the council’s vote.

However, Hicks said the garbage rate increase was “in line” with rates charged by Alabaster’s surrounding cities.

“Let me get us back to reality. Nobody around here pays for those (debris pickup) services like we do,” Hicks said. “Right now, this is to combat the rising costs for everything tied to garbage collection. This is a nominal fee of 40 cents per week per household.”

In addition to the pair of rate increases, the council also voted unanimously to approve the city’s 2009-2010 operating budget. The “bare bones” budget included a total of about $22.5 million in revenue, and about $22.4 million expenses.

The budget included no cost-of-living or merit-based increases for city employees, and imposed a salary freeze on all city positions. The freeze will allow the city to maintain its current number of employees, and will allow Alabaster to continue to “provide the same level of service” it does now, said McClain.