Mayor Michael Nutter hopes to close next year's budget shortage through a soda tax and fees for trash pickup.
The two-cents-an-ounce sweet-drink tax will raise $77 million a year and address the city's high obesity rate, especially among children, according to mayoral aides. The $300-per-year trash fee is expected to yield $108 million annually.
Residents can offset the fees through a recycling program that offers rewards of $100 to $400 a year based on neighborhood totals, aides said Wednesday, a day before Nutter was to deliver his budget plan to the City Council.
After a scorching public response to the first-term Democrat's attempt to close libraries and recreation centers during a budget crisis last year, he hopes not to make any further cuts in services. The city work force is down about 800 people in the past year, to 22,400 workers.
Nutter's $3.9 billion budget for 2011 includes modest increases in pension costs, debt service, technology investments and police spending but is otherwise mostly flat. The 2010 budget is about $3.7 billion.
Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., a fellow Democrat, believes the trash fees and sweet-drink tax have a good chance of passage among the 17-member council. He supports the tax on sweet beverages, which would include sugary sodas, juice drinks, sports drinks and iced tea and coffee but not diet beverages, water or milk.
"While I don't think it's something the public will fully embrace, it is necessary to provide some level of service that maintains the quality of life that we need," Goode said. "Also, it's an investment in terms of future public health expenditures."
He opposes the trash fees, however, as regressive.
Under the current plan, low-income residents and senior citizens would be charged $200 a year. Commercial properties would be assessed $300. The fees would be collected annually through property records. City officials insisted that no trash would be left on city streets and that some of the revenue generated in future years would go toward graffiti removal and other beautification efforts.
"All the trash will be collected, I assure you," Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler said.
Kate Simpson, who sees overweight children at her job with a health organization, supports the soda tax and even, begrudgingly, the trash fees.
"I wish that they accepted more types of recycling, because I would have less trash," said Simpson, as she sipped an unsweetened iced tea Wednesday at the Reading Terminal Market. "But if they have to charge for trash, I guess that's equitable."
But retired sheriff's department employee Carl Easter strongly opposes both fees.
"I think it's really terrible," said Easter, as he drank a soda. "I might start making lemonade."