City plans public awareness campaign about trash fee exemption

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/27/2018, 1:32 p.m.
Christine Page rents a house in the 1700 block of North 19th Street, and her monthly utility bill has always ...
Former South Carolina legislator Bakari T. Sellers, keynote speaker for the Richmond Branch NAACP 100th Anniversary Freedom Fund Gala last week, and branch President James E. “J.J.” Minor III agree that the NAACP is needed now more than ever. Ava Reaves

Christine Page rents a house in the 1700 block of North 19th Street, and her monthly utility bill has always included $23.79 for trash and recycling collection. She was surprised to learn that she could apply to the city to remove the fee from the bill without any impact on her service.

“I never knew that,” said the 69-year-old who lives on Social Security disability and would benefit from not having to pay the fees each month.

In the wake of recent Free Press reports about City Hall not publicizing the benefit, officials are planning a campaign to ensure renters like Ms. Page are aware of the exemption and have easy access to an application to seek relief.

City Finance Director John Wack is helping make that happen.

He said the Finance Department, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Utilities are now working together on boosting awareness of the benefit and providing an application.

Mr. Wack said under the new approach, the Department of Public Works, which operates the solid waste program and oversees recycling, has agreed to receive applications from renters and to forward the names of qualified participants to the Department of Public Utilities to make adjustments to bills.

“I personally drafted a template application form for Public Works to use on its Refuse web page” to enable renters to seek an exemption from the monthly trash and recycling fees, Mr. Wack stated Tuesday in an email to the Free Press.

“As soon as DPW finalizes the application, I anticipate posting it at the Finance website to complement DPW’s post and incorporating it with other Finance outreach efforts,” Mr. Wack stated.

He also stated that elderly and disabled renters who might qualify could contact him directly at John.Wack@richmondgov.com, and will have a city employee follow up.

The Department of Public Utilities also plans to work with Public Works to get the word out on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and in blogs, according to Angela Fountain, DPU spokeswoman.

She stated that city Customer Care representatives at 311 or (804) 646-5700 also would have information on the exemption to share with “customers who call about solid waste and/or recycling fees.”

Ms. Fountain said DPU also plans to send an advisory to area radio and TV stations, newspapers and online outlets, as well as to neighborhood blogs and community and neighborhood associations to help spread the word.

She said the application and the information campaign would be underway by July 1, but could get started sooner.

No data is available on how many people may qualify for the benefit. Many renters live in apartment complexes that pay utilities and incorporate the cost into the monthly rental payment.

Most of those who might qualify live in rented homes, as Ms. Page does, and have their own utility accounts.

According to the City Code, renters who qualify for exemption from trash and recycling fees would have to meet the same qualifications as elderly and disabled homeowners who seek relief from real estate taxes.

That means they would have to provide evidence they are 65 or older or are permanently and totally disabled, have a total household income of $50,000 a year or less and a net worth of $200,000 or less.

About 2,300 Richmond homeowners yearly qualify for tax relief, according to Mr. Wack. When they do, they also get the additional benefit of having trash and recycling fees eliminated from their utility bills.

While relief from those fees is supposed to be automatic, some people are left out. The Free Press recently spotlighted one example, Mark C. Spick, a South Side homeowner.

Last week, Mr. Spick was notified that City Hall agreed that he had been wrongly billed for trash and recycling and that his utility account was being credited to make up for the mistake.