THUMBS UP to the Waterville City Council for quickly and quietly giving approval to changes in the city’s solid waste ordinance made necessary by the new pay-as-you-throw trash program.

The approval, which changed the ordinance so that it officially states that the special pay-as-you-throw trash bags are required, was really just a “housekeeping measure,” as City Manager Mike Roy put it. But it could have been an opportunity for opponents to try to put an end to the controversial program.

That debate should be reserved for this summer, when there is expected to be a referendum vote on pay-as-you-throw. By then, the city and its residents will have nine months of experience and data to make an informed decision on how to move forward with the trash program.

Pay-as-you-throw has been successful in many Maine communities, even after some rough fits and starts in places where the trash disposal program met initial resistance. The same could be true in Waterville, where pay-as-you-throw has dropped the amount of trash collected by 193 tons compared to the same period a year ago. City officials estimate pay-as-you-throw and its accompanying recycling program will save the city at least $300,000 a year.

That kind of savings is what has made the program popular elsewhere, and what should save it in Waterville. That doesn’t mean there are not problems, however. The city should pursue ways to make the program cheaper for its low-income residents, and a true picture of whatever trash-dumping is occurring as a result of the program should be part of the debate over the referendum.

But those issues shouldn’t be enough to derail what is a positive program for taxpayers and the environment.

Also under consideration should be regional approaches to recycling and trash disposal. As Waterville recycles more, Oakland is losing out on money it makes from the city through its transfer station. Winslow, which also uses Oakland’s transfer station, is also considering implementing pay-as-you-throw.

The question should be asked, is there some way those municipalities and others in the area can work together to reduce waste and save money?

THUMBS DOWN to the state’s ongoing inability to deal with psychiatric patients who have proven too difficult for the Riverview Psychiatric Center but are not a good fit for prison or county jail either.

The issue re-emerged last month, when Arlene Edson was sent to Kennebec County jail after assaulting staff members while a patient at Riverview. That led Kennebec Sheriff Randall Liberty to criticize a system that puts difficult patients in his jail, where comprehensive mental health services are not available.

“We call ourselves, ‘Riverview West,'” Liberty said. “It’s like one big merry-go-round here. They bounce back and forth between the jail, Riverview and prison.”

The situation raises questions over when people with mental illness should be held accountable, and where they should be held, particularly when they become a constant danger to staff and other patients.

As the state has found out, there are no easy answers. The state established a mental health unit at the Maine State Prison last year, but mental health advocates argue that sending people with mental illness there is punitive, rather than therapeutic.

A solution is necessary that helps the most difficult patients while also removing them from situations that hinder the treatment of others. The Legislature has to address this issue once and for all this session.

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