As I reflect on Waterville’s pay-as-you-throw proposal for waste management, something stands out to me. While opinions seem squarely divided, I would wager that there is more common ground present than meets the eye.
I believe most residents want a clean city, affordable taxes and maybe even some recycling along the way. So how do we get there?
Much of the resistance to PAYT comes from those who are concerned about the cost of the system, and especially the fact that taxpayers will be shelling out money for a service that is “free” right now. Currently, the “free” trash pickup and disposal costs the city between $600,000 and $750,000 per year. It is estimated that we could cut the amount of trash collected in half by implementing a curbside recycling program (at a cost of $72,000 per year). That equals roughly $230,000-$300,000 of net savings. I don’t think many residents would be opposed to a new system that generates those savings.
The real question is how the city finances the waste/recycling system, and whether savings are passed on to taxpayers. Despite Waterville’s high tax rate, today’s reality of rising costs and falling revenue sharing means that there’s still not enough money to continue running the city and its schools the way we’re accustomed to having them run.
We are lucky our city administrators have been able to keep tax increases at the levels they have. That said, our city administrators need to continue to strike a balance between serving residents and taxing residents (whether through the property tax or through charging for trash bags).
I think residents and city administrators should compromise on PAYT — every household should get one bag per week free of charge, and those who want to throw more should pay.