Burbank voters to get say on bill fee

Burbank residents in April will be asked to approve a special tax on their trash and sewer service bills that would subsidize the fees for low-income seniors over the age of 62, disabled people and those who require life support in their homes.

Burbank residents have actually been supporting this program — which costs each customer about $10 to $15 a year — for more than 20 years. But recent court rulings related to Proposition 218, which states that property-related service fees can't exceed the cost of the service, suggest the city faces legal risks if it continues to offer the programs under the current structure.

According to city officials, adding the measure to the April ballot would cost the city $66,000.

If the measure passes with a two-thirds majority, the program would continue to save eligible residents roughly $10 a month on sewer services, and about 50% — or between $15 and $25 a month, depending on trash-can size — on trash-hauling services. Annually, eligible customers would continue to save $300 to $420 on refuse and sewer services.

“It's partly going to be how generous people are feeling toward their less fortunate neighbors,” said Kim Rueben of the Tax Policy Center.

If the measure fails, the city would have to decide whether to continue the programs at an annual cost of $413,000 or scrap them completely.

Burbank's assistance programs benefit about 2,000 out of roughly 44,000 households, according to the city.

“It's a reflection of the compassion Burbank shows for those specific communities — the city tends to really be supportive of those in need,” said Public Works Director Bonnie Teaford said.

Glendale doesn't offer discounted rates for refuse or sewer operations, said Stephen Zurn, the city's public works director.

In La Cañada Flintridge, trash haulers bill customers directly, but the city requires haulers to provide seniors over the age of 74 with discounted rates and free trash-can roll-outs, said Mary Strauss, the city's senior management analyst.

The haulers in La Cañada typically give a 10% to 15% discount to seniors.

Pasadena offers a 10% refuse rate reduction to seniors over the age of 62. Roughly 1,000 seniors benefit from the program, which costs the city about $29,000 a year, said Pasadena City Engineer Dan Rix.

To cover the discount, the city taps its General Fund, which pays for most public services, such as libraries and public safety.

In addition, the city rolls out trash cans to the street for free for those with state-issued handicapped placards, Rix said, adding that the programs have been in place for more than 25 years.

Pasadena doesn't have a sewer fund assistance program, as the rates are generated by a homeowner's water usage, rather than a flat fee.

Burbank Councilman David Gordon supported the assistance programs but voted against adding the measure to the ballot because, as written, the measure allows the council to provide incentives for using 32-gallon bins as opposed to 96-gallon ones.

“You're using taxation for social engineering,” Gordon said. “You're telling people what to do.”

The council voted 3-2 to endorse the measure, with Councilmen Gary Bric and Gordon being the two dissenting votes.

“I support putting it on the ballot [to] let voters decide,” Bric said. “That doesn't mean I want to support it.” 

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter @atchek.

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