Friday, April 13, 2018

It’s in the bag….

Once again we’re forced to come to grips with the fact that the richest little town in America is finding itself unable to come to grips with its massive municipal obligations.  So, as you might expect, our town Zethers are going to take up appropriate measures at the council meeting next week, as described here:

48. The Town Council will consider setting a public hearing for May 7, 2018, to amend the Town of Brunswick Municipal Code of Ordinances Master Schedule of Revenues, Charges, Fees and Fines to increase the retail cost of the Town trash bags, and will take any appropriate action. (Town Manager Eldridge)

Notes: The Town’s Finance and Recycling & Sustainability Committees have recently reviewed the Town’s Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program. They discussed the price of bags, and reviewed a survey comparing programs from neighboring communities, where an average retail price for small bags was $1.26, and for large bags, $2.38. The Town’s prices are $.50 for small and $1.00 for large bags, and they are recommending an increase effective July 1, 2018, to $1.00 for small and $2.00 for large bags. The PAYT program provides revenue to help offset landfill closure costs and promotes reduction of waste through recycling. Copies of memos from Finance Director Julia Henze and the Recycling & Sustainability Committee, a redlined copy of the Brunswick Code of Ordinances Chapter 13, a redlined copy of the Master Schedule of Fees – Chapter 13 and a draft public hearing notices are included in your packet.

(Note: we know calling councilors Town Fathers, or Town Mothers,  is entirely inappropriate in this enlightened age.  We could call them our betters, as we have in the past, but that would not be honest.  So we coined “zethers” as a gender neutral substitute for fathers or mothers, in keeping with current pronoun theology.)

As for the survey referred to above, we wonder who performed it, and what the ground-rules were.  We’re reminded how our teenagers (many years ago) always noticed those who had fancier cars or whatever than they did, but never seemed to notice those who had lesser items, or even no such possessions.  It’s a standard human failing.  We always want to “keep up with the Jones,” rather than “keeping down with the Smiths.”

We should remind you that we already pay for trash collection and operation of the landfill as a component of our property taxes.  So don’t fall into the trap of believing that “it’s only fair that we  pay for something that is free.”


Twelve  years ago, we delivered a statement on “Fee Per Bag” to the town council; you’ll find it appended to this post below.  It had the same effect and influence on the council that every other statement we’ve made has had.  Still, we found it amusing to reread, and we hope you will get at least one chuckle from it….in retrospect.  If nothing else, you should appreciate that if the RIGHT PEOPLE are in favor of pay per use, it sails through.  While if the same people receive a similar proposal that wrinkles their noses, the originator is a crank and an enemy of fairness.

Since we’re in the mood for oldies but goodies, we’ll also refer you to this collection of posts that invoke the “pay per use” philosophy.  All postdate the introduction of our green bag revolution; we founded this blog in 2009.

We amused ourselves by rereading the items ourselves.  Sometimes we lose sight of just how many posts we’ve published over the years,  And to be petty, just how creative we were in some of our flights of sarcasm.  No wonder we’ve made so much from our publishing efforts.

As a final note, if you’ve fprgptten the noble purpose of PayT, here’s a reminder.  You can cut it out and keep it close to your heart.

And please remember, this is not intended to generate revenue like taxes do.  The price of the bags is instead a disincentive to wasteful living.

Got it?  Now you can start thinking how you’ll cut your contributions to the landfill by another 50%.


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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