A handful of critics of a planned $500 city fee for small-business trash collection spoke against the new levy last night at a sparsely attended hearing.

Until this year, small businesses received "free" weekly trash collection - the service had been funded by other tax revenues. The new fee was contained in the $3.8 billion budget bill passed by City Council in May.

Councilman Frank DiCicco, the first of six speakers at the public hearing before the Streets Department in the Municipal Services Building, said he now regretted his vote to pass the budget because of the fee.

"My vote in favor of the bill was a mistake," DiCicco said.

He said he was immersed in other issues as the budget was being negotiated and later came to realize that the fee was unfair to small businesses, especially those that produce less trash than many households.

DiCicco vowed to introduce legislation to rescind the fee when City Council returns to session next month.

Gail Baker, who owns a tanning salon in the 7300 block of Frankford Avenue in Mayfair, complained that the city should go after tax delinquents and others who owe money instead of "overtaxing the good taxpayers" to make up the difference.

"I'm trying hard to exist and be a productive member of this city," she said, noting that four businesses on her block in recent months had closed or were going out of business.

Several speakers asked that, if the fee stands, proprietors be allowed to pay it two or four times a year.

The fee would be imposed on about 15,000 small businesses in hopes of generating more than $7 million a year for the cash-strapped city.

Large businesses are already required to use private trash collectors.

Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson said a report on the fee and public comments would be issued in several weeks.

What will happen to the fee will be determined after the report is issued, she said.