It seems the Waterville mayor and city councilors aren’t seeing a whole lot of love from their constituents regarding their pay-as-you-throw solid waste plan. That’s not surprising, as the plan, while maybe rational and logical as a business approach to a problem, veers off track politically.
Councilors are focused on the problem, but have forgotten their primary responsibilities to the public. They rant about Waterville being a service center community that must cover expenses of outsiders. Residents share that frustration and have to pay the bill for it. The mayor attacks governors, past and present, for cutting revenue sharing, which has put the city in financial straits. Residents agree and have to pay the difference. Others complain about all the tax-exempt properties in town that receive services, and residents cover those costs, too.
Councilors need to understand residents are on their side in dealing with the tough issues facing the city. We vote them into the offices they seek to attack these issues as our representatives. But when councilors “bite the hand that feeds them” with a contrived plan of rewards and punishments, they take mighty big political risks. Couple that with chastising residents for applauding and not sticking to three-minute speaking rules (it’s not in Robert’s Rules) and the mayor and council are speeding toward a political black hole.
The residents’ backlash about the pay-per-bag proposal should not be surprising to any elected policymaker who has a bit of political common sense.
It reminds me about a scheme some years ago where the city wanted to save a few bucks by turning off a bunch of street lights. It was seen as a silly petty plan that never took off. And yes, I was on the council that unanimously voted for the stainless steel sculpture in the Concourse. (At least that didn’t cost Waterville taxpayers anything!)
Waterville has provided trash pickup for many years. It’s always been covered by our property taxes and is a really good service. Many area communities don’t have it, but we are different, we are a city and we pay much more in taxes.
We also have great police and fire protection, but we only experience those services during bad times such as a burglary or kitchen fire. The trash truck, on the other hand, comes around once a week, regardless of the weather. The workers on the truck work hard, provide a great service, and we are happy with it. In short, “it ain’t broke,” at least from a resident’s perspective.
The current debate is our first hint that the city faces some solid waste problems. Well, maybe councilors should have asked for public input before just telling us that we need to pay more and change the way we’ve been doing things. Tell us what we could do instead of having to pay a bureaucratic tax increase. (During my days on the Legislature’s tax committee, we used to say if it walks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it’s a tax!)
If more recycling is needed, fine. Most of us still have those blue square bins left over from the city’s last unsuccessful recycling attempt. We did what was asked, then the city pulled the plug. What happened there? Was it our fault? Maybe not enough punishment was built into the plan.
The mayor and council will have to make up their minds about the pay-as-you-throw plan. Will they listen to what other communities are doing? Listen to the company that wants to make money on the scheme? Or, listen to their constituents?
I say keep trash collection free. We shouldn’t have to pay for special bags, and the mayor and council shouldn’t have to pay for a political blunder.
Ken Gagnon of Waterville is a former city councilor and former state representative and state senator representing Waterville.