Cranston’s new automated trash collection system, approved in February, is just getting under way, but it has already raised a stink.
Ken Block, a Republican candidate for governor, argues that the new program comes at an additional cost. He claims that Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, his gubernatorial primary opponent, has raised "the garbage tax" by "as much as $200 for some residents."
Block raised the issue during a debate with Fung on Rhode Island Public Radio on July 15, 2014.
When it was Block’s turn to ask Fung a question, he said, "You know, I’ve heard from a number of Cranston residents, including a few CPAs, that the increase in the garbage tax that you’ve imposed in Cranston for some people has been as much as $200 dollars. And for a number of people in Cranston, that’s equivalent to what is in effect a five-percent increase in their property tax …
"So my question to you is: When you talk about not increasing taxes but you’re charging some people the equivalent of 5 percent increase in property taxes, with $200 to collect garbage where they paid much less than the year before, how do you explain that, and do you think that’s acceptable? I hear from a ton of people we talked to in Cranston; they’re very unhappy with this."
In response, Fung said he’d heard from many residents that they’re happy with the new system.
"I’m not sure where you’re talking about a garbage tax," he said. "We haven’t raised taxes."
Garbage tax? $200 increase? Equivalent to 5-percent tax increase?
Is this just a lot of trash talk?
Here are the facts, according to the city’s website and the mayor’s office:
Cranston’s new automated trash pickup system,which started in June, is intended to boost the city’s recycling rate from 23 percent to the state’s goal of 35 percent and potentially earn rebates; keep the city cleaner by using closed containers; and reduce the rodent population by using the largely chew-proof barrels.
All in all, it should make for a cleaner, sweeter-smelling Cranston with an eased "critter" problem.
As part of the program, Cranston residents have received two new, free 65-gallon rolling barrels, one for trash, the other for recyclables. Residents can opt for smaller, 35-gallon bins if the larger ones are too unwieldy.
Residents who want a third barrel must pay $150 per year. There’s another change: the city no longer removes bulky items and appliances for free. Residents must pay $18 per bulky item, and $25 per mattress or box spring.
The bottom line: There is no new "garbage tax," but there new fees for services that were free before.
Now let’s examine Block’s claim.
When we asked the Block campaign what he was talking about, they emailed us a five-page response, contending that he was referring to the charge for the optional extra barrels, and the new removal fees for bulky items.
We should note that, in his back-and-forth with Fung, Block at one point said: "You don’t want to call it a tax - let’s call it a fee. They’re now paying a fee …" But he also used the words "tax" or "taxes" six times in roughly 30 seconds.
In his email, Block explained his math.
"The fact of the matter is that the citizens of Cranston are paying much more for trash removal than they were in the prior year when it was already done as a service paid for by their tax dollars," Block wrote.
"Collectively every household that has an extra bin ($150), plus any household that has a large curbside item ($18 per item) adds up to a sum of money that Cranston taxpayers are collectively paying for out of pocket that they didn’t pay for the year before -- call it a fee, call it a tax, call it whatever, but many Cranston residents are now paying more for trash service than they were a year ago."
As for the five percent: "If a homeowner has an annual property tax bill of $4,000 and he/she needs to purchase an extra bin, and also pay for three curbside items, "then he /she is paying approximately $300 in new fees, which is a 5% increase over their $4,000 tax bill."
OK, but just a second.
How many is "many" when we’re talking about people paying for additional bins?
Block cites 2008 Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each person in the U.S. "creates a daily average of 4.5 pounds of solid waste." From that, Block extrapolates that "each person creates approximately 30 pounds of solid waste per week" in concluding that "larger families will need an extra bin or bins."
Block also noted that the 65-gallon barrels provided in Cranston are smaller than the 90-gallon barrels provided in nearby Warwick. And he noted that residents who previously could discard bulky items such as sofas, carpets and mattresses will now have to pay extra fees.
It’s a little early to predict how many people in Cranston will be paying extra for bulky waste or renting extra bins.
But to date, out of 28,600 residential units that have received barrels, only 80 have requested an additional trash bin - or 0.3 percent, the mayor says.
Fung also called Block’s statement "false in a number of respects" and noted that there hasn’t been an increase in property taxes for three years.
"So even if a portion of the regular property tax were to be segregated or designated as paying for refuse removal services, the statement that there has been an ‘increase’ is false, because the overall tax rate has stayed constant for three consecutive years," he said.
During a radio debate, Ken Block said, "The increase in the garbage tax that [Mayor Allan Fung] imposed in Cranston for some people has been as much as $200."
He then mentioned the word "tax or taxes" five more times.
But there is no garbage tax. And only those who request an extra barrel or are discarding bulky items and mattresses will pay any extra fees.
In fairness, Block later used the word "fee," and "additional fee." But we believe the average listener would conclude that Block was talking about a hike in -- or extra fee beyond -- an existing "garbage tax."
In addition, Block’s claim that "many Cranston residents are now paying more for trash service than they were a year ago," is sweeping generalization. Only 80 residents have so far requested an extra barrel.
We won’t say that Block’s claim is a whole lot of garbage. But it certainly misleads and exaggerates.
We rule his statement False.