Saturday, November 16, 2013

“Flushing out” the refuse in Lake Basebegone…

Get the smelling salts, Igor; what we’re about to say will cause a stampede for them.

We’ve talked before about what sets Lake Basebegone apart from less perfect villages in the Northeast.  For purposes of this discussion, we wish to add fairness, perspicacity, and parsimony to the mix.  Let us tell you why.

Are we heading for pay per flush?

Oh what lovely memories resurfaced when we read this item in the Agenda for the upcoming town council meeting (Nov 18, 2013):

121. The Town Council will discuss increasing the cost of the pay-per-bag program, and will determine if any future action is needed. (Councilor Brayman)


(Note: if you’re an info junkie, you can read the backup information in the meeting ‘packet’ beginning at Page 84 here - – where you’ll find a letter on the subject from John Eldridge, town Finance Director.)

You must know that certain ‘moments in history’ attach to Side’s reputation for dabbling in town affairs, and have helped create the legend of us.

The introduction of ‘Pay Per Bag’ trash pickup was one of these moments.  The advocates used the ‘fairness’ hot button as their major argument: the more you fill up the dump, the more you should pay, which is another way of saying that if you bury or otherwise minimize your trash, you shouldn’t have to pay the same as the reprobate down the street who consumes far more than his ‘fair share’ of available dump capacity.


We took this as a tacit endorsement of ‘pay per book’ at the library, if not ‘pay per child’ in Brunswick schools.  Think about these concepts as you read the Eldridge letter, which documents revenue shortfalls in planning for eventual closure of the dump.

And so we wonder why there is a fixed ‘rate’ for bags, instead of an adjustable rate like we have for property taxes.  Surely you’ve noticed that the property tax rate is not fixed in any sense of that word. It simply gets calculated anew annually to provide whatever the ruling class wants to spend in the coming year.  Surely, Shirley, the price of bags at Hannaford could be recalculated whenever necessary.

As could the price of book borrowing, and the price of attendance at our schools.  (Cue the community vapors.)

We went so far as to speak publicly on the subject at a town council hearing on the subject in April, 2006.  (We’ve attached the statement in it’s entirety at the end of this post.)

If we were to pick one passage to remind you of its glory, it would be this one:

When it comes to priorities, I conclude that trash collection, because it is an essential public health and safety function, ranks well ahead of public libraries, which are at best a public amenity; a luxury, if you will. Said another way, my expectation of having trash safely disposed of trumps your expectation of having someone else pay for your books, magazines, and newspapers.

And this was the fallout it caused, as we expected it would:

When you read that classic, which we hope you will, you’ll see that we alluded to a ‘pay per flush’ tax.  When we reread it, we couldn’t help but chuckle and relive the moment.  But we’re easily amused, especially by our own words.

As we’ve learned, however, from the community debate over Class A Bio-solid application, the sludge from the sewage treatment plant has to go somewhere!  So why shouldn’t there be a per-flush charge?

Fair is fair, and economic justice can’t be far behind.  Unless you have double standards, that is.

As a final thought on this subject, we fully expect the recently elected House of Sartoris to speak forcefully at the meeting.

Bowdoin Students and the McClellan

Halfway through our lunch yesterday at BTD, the latest issue of The Bowdoin Orient was delivered.  We were shocked, shocked we say, to see this item prominently placed on the front  page, for which the headline reads:

McLellan renovations to cost town 10 times initial estimate

Never would we have expected Bowdoin students to give a pooping Polar Bear about what the cost of town facilities might be.  And even more (or less?), never would we have expected them to keep records of prior public pronouncements of proposed prices for such things.

All we can say is that we have a new-found respect for them and their coverage of local news.  The salient passages of their reporting are these:

“A lot of this discussion has arisen because the price has escalated,” said town councilor Benet Pols. ……  According to Pols, the office of the town manager originally estimated that the renovation would cost around $100,000 in Spring 2011, said Pols. That estimate increased, first to $200,000 and then to over $750,000. The final cost is ten times more than the initial estimate.

Once again, we’re reminded of ‘the town’s’ inability to address and manage capital facility projects with anything remotely approaching credibility.  The old Times Record building comes immediately to mind. 

Though to be ‘fair,’ we should point the fickle finger at Town Managers, who are charged with the professional responsibility for such pursuits.

But you know what?  We just noticed in the passage above that ‘the office of the town manager’ was the one doing the estimating, not the town manager his-self.  Minus ten points for that, Orient.  If you’re going to be a ‘watchdog,’ you’ve got to bark at the perp, not the perp’s ‘office.’

We’re going to go out on a limb here; we’re not professionals.  At least in the way that label is ordinarily applied.  But we wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we haven’t seen the end to this price escalation.  And you quote us, if you wish, Bowdoin Orient.  This thought is now a matter of public record, if not of yours.

Oh, and one more thing.  Given running Jane’s election to the council as well, and her excoriation on the subject during her campaign, we expect her to speak Monday night and have McClellan estimates reduced by half through sheer force of her will if nothing else.

Boola boola!  See Jane!

Statement on “Fee per bag” April 17, 2006

  • I’d like to talk about the proposed new trash collection tax.

  • Supporters of tax per bag, which is what it is, claim that this new charge for town services will cause us to generate less trash. I suppose you all have in mind what foods you will no longer buy, and what purchases you will no longer make, once the plan goes into place.

  • No more ice cream, for example…those containers are so bulky. And no more eggs; those cartons are such a travesty. And back to cloth diapers, because those disposables clearly add to the bag count. I can even envision that we’ll have trash police one of these days, going through our town approved bags to tell us which items we are no longer allowed to buy.

  • As for me, I’m at a loss to understand how paying a new tax for trash collection will cause my household to generate less trash. “Honey, don’t buy cereal this week, it will cost too much to trash the box; I’ll just have coffee for breakfast.”

  • In fact, we may actually generate MORE trash, since we’ll now be throwing away town approved bags on a weekly basis.

  • If those bags are plastic, which apparently is common, I have to assume our beloved wildlife will appreciate our efforts. Nothing enjoys a plastic bag of trash, nor can decimate it faster, than a hungry crow, and other cherished members of our native population.

  • I love the comments on this so far. Some councilors often remind us of how they “listen to their constituents,” when it suits their purpose; but when it doesn’t, they rationalize that they “aren’t elected to do what’s popular.” How convenient a principle.

  • A year and a half ago, when I proposed the possibility of some user fees to help plug any revenue gap caused by Palesky, I was castigated as having outrageously undemocratic thoughts. Now, the same councilor who was disgusted by my suggestion finds such fees to be entirely appropriate (see Forecaster article.) Again, how convenient.

  • Of course, in addition to the new bags that will be added to the landfill, we’ll all be burning more fossil fuel as we drive wherever we have to go to buy the bags.

  • I hope some of the per bag fees will go to the Police Department, and to the new Public Works TSI unit, both of which will be responding to regular reports of unauthorized dumping at the various midnight trash disposal sites around town. No doubt folks in the “Rural Smart Growth Area” will be especially popular when it comes to such “off peak” refuse disposal activities. I expect the Town’s rubber glove budget line to increase significantly. (In case you didn’t get it, TSI stands for Trash Scene Investigation.)

  • Come to think of it, there’ll be the expense of producing, storing, and selling the bags. Based on figures I got from John Foster, the town will have to sell something like 10,000 bags or so per week, or about 1500 per day. That should keep somebody somewhere hopping! And we may just need an assistant director of bags; I hope you’ve figured this in to your estimates.

  • Now if you accept the premise that increasing the tax levied on trash collection will discourage trash generation, than you also have to accept the premise that raising the tax on purchases will discourage sales, and that raising the property tax will discourage real property construction and purchase. Surely you see the principle here….increasing a tax on a given behavior discourages that behavior. I hope you’ll keep that in mind as you discuss and enact the upcoming budget.

  • I’d like to make a clear distinction for purposes of this discussion. There are functions that are core obligations of government; these are critical and essential to public health and safety, and they are legitimate top priorities for public funding. There is no reasonable alternative to these functions; a perfect example is trash disposition. Let me quote from our Solid Waste Ordinance, Section 13-2:

    • Purpose: …to protect the health, safety, and general wellbeing of the citizens…….

  • On the other hand, there are functions that are not critical and essential to public health and safety, and that are arguably public amenities, not related to public health and safety. An example would be the public library.

  • In the current budget year, this town will spend about $200,000 to collect residential trash, and I’m told the staffing to do this is about four full time equivalent employees.

  • In this same budget year, this town is providing $922,000 for the operation of Curtis Library. And the library has a staff of about 22 full time equivalent employees.

  • This seems a bit out of whack to me. I can hear the gasps and shocked amazement among those who cherish the library, but they are missing the point.

  • Government does not have unlimited resources, because those of us who pay for government do not have unlimited resources. For those who have not yet figured it out, government can only spend that which it first takes from us.

  • Accordingly, choices have to be made, and therefore, priorities have to be set. It’s well known that elected officials are deathly afraid of making such choices; they’d rather believe everything is possible, no matter how much it might cost.

  • When it comes to priorities, I conclude that trash collection, because it is an essential public health and safety function, ranks well ahead of public libraries, which are at best a public amenity; a luxury, if you will. Said another way, my expectation of having trash safely disposed of trumps your expectation of having someone else pay for your books, magazines, and newspapers.

  • Furthermore, EVERY resident of this town, whether they pay property tax directly or indirectly, is a user of the essential trash collection service we pay for in this town. Regardless of the popularity of the library, I am confident that not EVERY resident of this town makes use of this delightful amenity.

  • What is my point? Here it is plain and simple. Before you even think about “tax per bag” trash collection, you should enact “tax per library card,” and “tax per book.” Simply because library use, and many other so called services this town provides, are not essential in the way that police, firefighting, emergency medical services, and trash collection are essential.

  • There are those gasps again. But if you don’t accept my argument, here’s another way to look at it. Imagine stopping all trash collection for six months. Then imagine stopping library operation for six months. Now tell me which decision had the greater effect on public health and safety, and overall community well-being.

  • Until town residents, and you as a governing body, are willing to establish and prioritize legitimate functions of government, this town will always be in crisis mode with budgets, and in dealing with citizen expectations for a government big and rich enough to provide whatever they want.

  • Some will say I’ve gored a pretty big ox tonight, and no doubt folks I consider friends will be very upset with me. That saddens me, but I’m not willing to ignore reality in the name of a false sense of tranquility. I don’t mind touching the third rail every now and then. I don’t have ambitions for a political future, and I don’t want to be known as someone who sat around and complained about what is happening, but did nothing about it.

  • And besides, my oxen are a lot bigger than the ox I may have gored, and I’m tired of mine being gored. My oxen are called common sense and responsible governing. They haven’t been treated well for years, and I’m going to continue to do what I can to change that.

  • Thank you.

  • Pay Per Flush Program

  • I’d like to talk about the town’s proposal to institute a Pay per flush program.

  • Oops, I’m sorry…wrong statement. This is one I’m getting ready for next year.

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