Berlin Council Approves Updated Fee Schedule; Officials Discuss Parking, Trash

Berlin Council Approves Updated Fee Schedule; Officials Discuss Parking, Trash
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BERLIN – While minor changes were approved this week, Berlin officials agree discussion needs to continue regarding trash fees and potential parking solutions downtown.

An updated municipal fee schedule presented this week led to a lengthy talk about the need for more parking in the downtown business area, as well as concerns about trash fees not covering the cost of providing the service. Although the council agreed to increase the long-term rental license fee to $75 and to end commercial dumpster pickup July 1, officials agreed discussions should continue about trash costs and potential parking solutions.

“It’s obvious staff has a bit more work to do on this,” Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said.

Staff presented officials with an updated fee schedule this week, citing inflation and the fact that fees hadn’t been adjusted in years as the need for slight increases. Bohlen said the fees being adjusted were for things like rental licenses and building permits.

“They are only paid by the person using the service,” she said, adding that they weren’t things that would affect every taxpayer.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said the idea was to get the updated fee schedule approved before the town began its next budget process. Councilman Steve Green said he felt the long-term rental license fee was still too low, even with its proposed increase to $15 in the fee schedule. He said that fee was significantly higher in most municipalities.

“Expenses have gone up for everybody including government,” he said. “I just feel there’s an opportunity there to recoup some costs.”

Planning Director Dave Engelhart agreed more of an increase was warranted.

Tyndall asked Engelhart what his thoughts were on a parking fee for projects that didn’t have parking on site. Engelhart said that was allowed in the code but the town had never imposed such a fee or created a fund those fees would go into. He said the concept was to put those fees toward something that would improve the parking situation, such as a new parking lot.

“We could set a fee but you really need to have that policy in place,” he said.

Engelhart said that while it wasn’t popular, a similar idea would be to have a portion of the business license fee devoted to improving the parking situation.

Though there was some discussion regarding a parking impact fee, David Gaskill, the town attorney, reminded officials impact fees were meant to spent on items directly related to new growth.

“If I’m a resident why am I paying for tourists to park?” he said.

Tyndall said the concept wasn’t to have the fee in residential areas but rather the downtown business district. Engelhart said his department could review possibilities in that regard.

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said that if a parking fund was created to benefit the entire downtown area, all the businesses downtown should contribute to it.

Bohlen said another issue to consider was whether the fee being discussed would be levied on landlords of apartments in the downtown commercial district.

“I think we need a later discussion,” Engelhart said.

Bohlen agreed staff would review it further but noted a consultant might be needed as well.

Councilman Dean Burrell said he had questions about commercial trash rates included in the fee schedule. Public Works Director Jimmy Charles explained the town had five four-yard and four six-yard dumpsters used by Berlin businesses. Many businesses also have regular trash bins.

“The fee is $95 if you have one can,” he said, adding that if a business had two cans it was $180 a quarter. “If you have three cans it’s $270 quarterly. We do 90-some commercial cans per week. Along with the four- and six-yard dumpsters. We are undercharging. The residents are picking up that shortfall, subsidizing the volume that’s not being charged.”

Bohlen said staff would like to see the town get out of the commercial trash business.

“We are significantly undercharging,” she said.

Burrell said the town should raise rates to what commercial trash hauling companies charged. Tyndall said if they did that they might lose some customers, which would force residents to subsidize the cost further.

“We also have to examine the town code and make sure if we take away commercial collection we’re addressing that,” Bohlen said. “These are logistics we’re working through.”

Charles said he specifically wanted to stop offering commercial dumpsters because the process was clumsy, involving a cable lifting the dumpster up.

“That’s not safe,” he said, adding that the dumpsters cost thousands to replace. He said continuing to offer commercial service in the regular bins would not be an issue.

Bohlen said another issue to consider was that in eliminating commercial service the town didn’t want to encourage improper disposal of trash. She said the town could make shops show proof of a trash contract when they applied for a business license.

“Part of what we want to discourage is people dumping things,” she said.

Burrell said he felt the town should increase the costs for the bins if the town was undercharging.

When asked for her perspective, Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells said she didn’t think the town needed to offer commercial dumpsters. She said businesses could work together or with the chamber of commerce to consolidate trash in a few fenced-in areas. She noted that while merchants might have to walk a little farther it would look better.

Councilmembers agreed that if they were in agreement with terminating the dumpster service on July 1, those fees should not be increased now.

“We need to look at the price of the little green cans,” Burrell said.

Another issue discussed was the fact that when residents purchased a can, it cost $100. Each additional can also costs $100.

“You buy the can but we don’t charge for the volume of that can,” Charles said.

He added that most municipalities charged for trash service.

Bohlen said the trash costs were included in the town code and would need to be addressed.

“How about we work on the rest of what we’ve got here, knowing we’re going to talk about this again,” she said.

The council agreed to continue trash and parking discussions in the future. They passed a motion, however, to approve the updated fee schedule with a long-term rental fee of $75 a year and elimination of the commercial dumpster service beginning July 1.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.