By John Schaffner

The Atlanta City Council seemingly is grasping at just about anything to avoid having to levy a property tax increase on residents with an election year just around the corner.

Recently, the council’s Utilities Committee considered raising the city’s annual recycling fee — for what little the city does in terms of recycling — to charge homeowners for collecting yard trimmings.

Councilwoman Clair Muller, who represents about half of Buckhead, is pushing for the changes in an effort to deal with the city’s budget problems. But Muller also is playing right into the hands of Mayor Shirley Franklin, who wants to reduce recycling and yard-trimming pickups from once a week to twice a month to help grapple with the $140 million projected shortfall in the budget scheduled to begin July 1.

Muller, however, said she is worried the mayor’s proposals will discourage some home­owners from recycling. She believes that the city can sell some of the recycled materials and turn a profit.

Some council members have concerns about Muller’s plan, claiming it would be difficult for them to vote for higher charges for services homeowners claim are spotty at best and considering some residents’ feelings about the city’s finances.

Elements of the city’s recycling efforts have frustrated Muller and other council members, who complain residents leave large bulk items for trash pickup that really should be recycling items. They have even heard of nonresidents leaving yard trimmings on streets for city workers to pick up.

Muller advocates homeowners reuse their yard trimmings by composting. She had supported having Atlanta’s recycling program mirror the “pay-as-you-throw” employed by the city of Decatur’s trash collection program.

In Decatur, homeowners purchase special bags in which to put their trash. The bags are 8, 15 and 33 gallons and cost $4.07, $6.96 and $14.45, respectively, for a pack of 10.

There are others on the council, though, who say pay-as-you-throw is a financial burden to low-income homeowners and encourages illegal dumping.

Atlanta residents, however, can expect that fees will increase on most services because of the anticipated budget shortfall.

The City Council on June 13 approved the following legislation:

An ordinance establishing fees to use city parks for private business purposes, other than during a permitted outdoor event.

Amending a section of the city code containing fee schedules for publications and maps produced by the Department of Planning and Community Development.

The council also passed an action authorizing the commissioner of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to enter into an agreement with booster clubs to raise money to support recreation facilities and programs and to authorize the city’s accepting donations from booster clubs.

In short, the council passed off the expenses of part of the duties of that department to booster clubs, which get money in the form of resident donations.

And it is not over yet. There still are more fee increases in the hopper for action before the 2008-2009 budget is finalized by the end of June.