City leaders are currently considering a proposal to raise residential trash collection rates by $1 per month to cover the rising costs of cleaning up unsanctioned homeless camps throughout Albuquerque.
The proposal — which would generate $2.2 million annually for the Solid Waste Management Department, according to city documents — has already drawn the scorn of one city councilor. Dan Lewis blasted the idea as “insanity” during a budget hearing Thursday night, taking aim at Mayor Tim Keller’s policy choices.
Councilors Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton are sponsoring the rate-increase legislation at Keller’s request.
A mayoral spokeswoman cited neighborhood and councilor encampment and illegal dump site clean-up requests as one reason the administration is pursuing the fee increase. She said the problems are citywide “and the voters do want to see them addressed.”
The plan would raise a resident’s monthly cost for a trash bin to $18 from the current rate of $17. It would take effect in fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1. The extra funds would go to the “Clean Cities Program.” Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan said that would cover 17 to 20 more employees to clean up after the city clears encampments in unauthorized locations such as parks. He said his department currently has two such crews but the new revenue would mean a crew dedicated to each quadrant of the city and a floater crew.
“Every day they would handle calls in that quadrant, because right now we kind of have two crews for the whole city and they go all over the city based on need. … These would be a more proactive approach on how to deal with the encampments,” he said.
The city routinely breaks up encampments around Albuquerque, though officials could not immediately provide numbers. Staff typically post a notice 72 hours ahead of the process, though the city moves faster if it considers the site an “immediate hazard,” Whelan told the City Council during Thursday’s budget hearing.
Councilor Lewis accused Keller of “refusing to do anything about” unsanctioned encampments while passing the associated costs onto all city residents.
“I really believe if the people in the city and taxpayers were really to understand this and know this is going on, I think they’d think of it as insanity (and that) City Hall is in a bubble, out-of-touch and just has completely lost their minds,” Lewis said during Thursday’s hearing. He also criticized the idea in a Friday news release, calling it an example of “why people do not trust City Hall.”
The mayor’s office fired back Friday, advocating for “fewer press releases and more problem solving.”
“Voters consistently say that addressing homelessness is one of their top priorities and unlike Councilor Lewis, we are working with the majority of Council to change the status quo,” mayoral spokeswoman Ava Montoya wrote in a statement. “While we pursue lasting solutions with more shelter and comprehensive services, we are also committed to keeping our city clean and safe, while supporting the Solid Waste Department.”