St. Pete man refuses to pay recycling fee on water bill

- At the risk of getting his water turned off, a St. Petersburg man has refused to pay a $2.95 recycling fee on his utility bill for the last year.

In May of 2015, Clint Birtha and every other homeowner in St. Petersburg got a blue recycling bin at their front door after City Council adopted a universal curbside recycling program.

“I was confused, I mean, I woke up and there’s a blue bin sitting in front of my house and a note on it, saying for now on, I’ve got to pay $2.95 for this bin,” said Birtha.

St. Petersburg was the last major city in Florida to initiate a citywide recycling program.

Residents both for and against the program gave input at council meetings, but ultimately, it was unanimously approved, 7-0, during the vote.

Since the day his bin arrived, Birtha said it has sat in his backyard. With each month’s utility bill, he makes sure to deducted exactly $2.95 from his payment, eliminating the curbside recycling fee.

It did not take long for the city to catch on. They gave him warnings to pay his bill in full. Birtha continued to refuse, and this week, he was given a final notice.

“At this point, they’ve been threatening me every month that they’re going to turn my water off,” said Birtha.
According to representatives with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Office, using the recycling bins is optional for residents, but paying the fee is not.

Council voted to include the fee on every resident’s monthly utility bill in order to maintain the citywide service.

“It’s just the fairness factor of it. It’s not the point of the recycling,” said Birtha’s wife, Beth.

She said she is concerned the city is bullying them into paying for something they will never use by threatening to turn off their water.

“We need water. We need to shower. I think that’s kind of a scare tactic,” said Beth. “If I don’t pay my electric bill, shut my electric off. If I don’t pay my water, shut my water off. I’m not paying a blue bin fee, but they’re shutting off a different utility. That just doesn’t seem to make sense to us.”

City representatives said if someone is itemizing their utility bill, choosing what they will and will not pay, they are at risk of having other services, such as water, turned off because the bill is not being paid in full.

Birtha said he has contacted the city to remove the blue bin from his house with no luck. City officials said they will send someone to his home to pick up the bin if he contacts them again, however, the curbside recycling fee on his bill will not change.

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