By Nathan Mayberg
LIBERTY May 19, 2006 The Village of Liberty Hall heated up Tuesday night as about two dozen residents and businesspeople expressed skepticism and outright protest at a new proposal by the Village Board to create a separate sanitation fee.
Currently, taxpayers pay for refuse removal as part of their overall tax bill. With the local law approved unanimously on Tuesday, residents will be charged separate fees for garbage based on the property they own.
A fee schedule was not set but will be discussed and possibly adopted at the May 24 meeting at 7 p.m. in the village hall.
The village is currently considering rates where single-family residences would pay $240, while seasonal residences would pay $120 a year. Small commercial businesses would pay a rate of $500 a year, and properties with a Dumpster would be charged $1,200 each year. But village officials stressed that those numbers are only proposals and could change.
It was mostly owners of multi-family residences and Dumpsters who were upset with the new law. The fee for the Dumpsters is what concerned them. Landlords such as Ray Kelly said they would have to raise their rental rates in response.
The proposed budget in the village would actually decrease the tax rate by about 6.5 percent, according to village officials. The overall tax levy would drop 3.78 percent, while fees would drop 9.6 percent before the $544,584 sanitation budget is calculated.
Village Trustee Joan Stoddard estimated that the average owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would save $168 on their tax bill.
But some in the crowd worried that the new costs for commercial businesses would harm prospective investors. Indeed, one investor said it could change his plans in the village. Another landlord said that taxes had already made Section 8 tenants the only people he could rent to and that this new fee, combined with rising fuel costs, would hurt him even more.
Some landlords, such as Jim Gordon, estimated their total tax bill with the Dumpster fee could rise by as much as 40 percent. He said the proposed late fees and penalties were also too high.
Rich Winters argued that the sanitation rates should be based on assessments rather than one set of fees for all homes and businesses.
But village officials maintained that the new rules, particularly for Dumpsters, were a way to make the system fairer for all. Also, tax-exempt properties never had to pay for their garbage pick-up. Now, everybody from the schools to the churches, synagogues, and any other tax-exempt group will have to pay the sanitation fee. In addition, the village provided figures that showed its proposed residential rate would still be far below surrounding villages such as Monticello and Woodridge.
Smith also reminded the crowd several times of the villages new recycling policy. The village recycles nearly everything and has a strict enforcement policy which requires clear plastic garbage bags to ensure cooperation.
The village has, by far, the greatest recycling rate in the county. Smith estimated it at 90 percent during a meeting with the Village of Monticello, which is looking to emulate the villages policies.
Smith encouraged Liberty residents and businessmen to call the villages Department for Public Works, if they would like them to stop by their homes and businesses to educate them on how to recycle more and save money.
But others saw the new fees as a way to attack the village for taxes they see as too high already. The proposed new tax rate would drop from $20.46 per $1,000 of assessed value to $19.08 per assessment, before sanitation fees. In addition, village residents pay Town of Liberty taxes. One Realtor said it was hard enough to sell properties in the village due to the high taxes, and the new law would only hurt those opportunities.
One resident actually called on the village to dissolve and merge with the Town of Liberty. Smith said the village was considering that option.