Durham wants me to pay rent on something I already own

screwedI got a letter yesterday from Donald Long, the director of Durham’s Solid Waste Management department. In that letter he gave me, and everyone in Durham, I imagine, the good news that the city would begin, on July 1, charging a $1.50 per month rental fee for those large brown containers you fill with leaves, branches, and grass clippings. But here’s the problem: I bought mine from the city about 10 or 12 years ago.

Here’s what Mr. Long wrote in his letter:

We have one additional change to share with customers who purchased their cart in previous years. Effective July 1, all carts now have a rental fee regardless of past purchase history. This means that yard waste customers who were paying $6 per month ($72 per year) will now be charged an extra $1.50 per month for their cart rental, for a total of $7.50 per month ($90 per year).

Keep in mind that Mr. Long is telling me that he wants to rent me my container, which he readily admits I may have purchased previously.

I mentioned this to Roy Cordato, vice president for research and resident scholar at the John Locke Foundation, and an economist par excellence. “That’s just a property tax,” he exclaimed, pointing out that they wanted to put a rental fee on something that I owned.

And since localities can’t willy nilly create new property taxes without a vote of the local governing body, not to mention without being given the authority by the state legislature, this “rental fee” seems a bit dubious to me.

I have notified my neighbors, via our neighborhood listserv, of this, and have copied a couple of members of the city council.

Now, here’s the kicker. Mr. Long, in response to numerous queries about this policy, wrote in an email to the Trinity Park listserv:

We truly regret the implied financial imposition to subscribers who purchased carts, but once you purchased your cart we still provided replacement and maintenance service for the cart. Every year the cart depreciates and depending on when you purchased your cart you may have gotten the purchase value out of the cart already and we will continue to provide the replacement and maintenance service. The reasons for the changes are twofold. First of all the program had to at least pay for itself since we can’t ask taxpayers who don’t subscribe to supplement the cost and secondly, we had a strong need to change our billing system in order to get all of our subscribers on one payment schedule for the sake of efficiency. I hope I’ve made this understandable, but if not feel free to contact me directly.

My question: Since when did the City of Durham give a whit about asking taxpayers who don’t subscribe to a service to supplement the cost of that service to those who get it? That’s the backbone of politics in Durham.

(Cross-posted from The Locker Room)

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