Business/Economy, Economy, Energy, Peter Blake, Politics, Taxes

Blake: Not all environmental "fees" are mandated by government

Nickels and Dimes
Nickels and Dimes

Nickel-and-diming. It’s a government tax tradition that has spilled over into the private sector.

“Customer pay enviro fee for repair order” said the item at the bottom of my major repair ticket from Mile High Honda.

The “enviro fee” came to $40 on a total bill of $905 for my 2004 Accord.

What’s this, I asked. Has the Environmental Protection Agency or the equivalent state agency imposed another “fee” (i.e. tax) on which I didn’t get to vote and didn’t even know about?

It’s apparently not new, but it was new to me. The dealer’s representative said the charge is supposed to cover the disposal cost of waste fluids and parts.

“We have to separate our oil and our coolant and we have to crush our oil filters, then drain the filters into a separate tank. Then you have to have a company come in and take your used oil and used coolant in separate trucks,” he said.

But the money goes to the dealer and isn’t forwarded to any government. The dealer uses the money — or at least some of it — to pay another company to haul away its toxic waste.

The rate was determined by the dealer: 15 percent of the labor charges — not the parts or oil that end up as waste — up to a maximum of $40.   So 15 percent of my $422.17 in labor costs would have run to $63.32, but it topped out at $40 even.

Exactly how the fee correlates to the actual disposal costs is hard to figure. But either $40 or $63.32 seems higher than what it would actually cost to get rid of a crankcase full of oil, an oil filter, brake pads and a couple of air filters.

Up the street, Tynan’s Nissan imposed a similar 15 percent fee on labor for an oil change on an Altima.

Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said his group hasn’t surveyed its members on waste disposal fees, but he believes less than half the dealers impose them.

He does recommend to them that unless the fees are a “direct charge” going to a disposal service provider or to a government, it should be disclosed as “additional profit.”

Instead, the fee is designed to make the customer think some governmental body is requiring it.

Disposing of waste is just another cost of doing business, like paying for heat, lights, water, telephone, real estate taxes, labor — and free coffee for waiting customers. But such items aren’t broken out on your repair bill.

Whether you end up paying more to a dealer who charges a separate waste fee or to one who includes it in the total bill is virtually impossible to ascertain.

But such fees amount to nickel-and-diming, and though they are contrary to good business practice, they are increasingly common.

For instance, a large trash hauler I once patronized charged a variable “fuel recovery fee” in addition to his regular service when gas prices were much higher, and even when they weren’t. On top of that was an “administrative fee” of $1.30 — apparently because I had the temerity to pay by check instead of letting the company grab the money directly out of my bank account as God intended.

Whether it still charges the fuel fee now that gas prices are down I don’t know, because I switched to a local trash hauler who charges a flat rate that is somewhat lower than what I was paying. He happily deposits my check without penalizing me for writing it.

The airlines are becoming the king of incidental fees. Almost all charge extra for bags you check. Others, notably Frontier, now even charge for carry-ons. Many still provide free juice and soft drinks but unless you’re flying first class, you don’t get free food anymore.

At least there’s some good news on the fee front. The $1.50 you have to pay when you buy a new tire (in order to pay for disposal of the old one) will be reduced to 55 cents — in two years.

House Bill 14-1352 says the reduction goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018. The existing fee provided a subsidy to tire recyclers — and tires were shipped to Colorado from neighboring states because of the deal. It was like offering a bounty on rabbits or raccoons. It just encouraged people to breed the animals.       But new uses have been found for old tires, such as fuel and construction material, and the state intends to gradually close tire landfills.

It may be too much to hope for, but perhaps someday the customer will be paid for the tires he turns in, just as he is paid for his used car. We’re overdue for a such a reverse fee, even if it’s nickel-and-dime.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes twice a month for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.

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