Waste much, Want not
Last week, The Sheet was kind enough to print my request to the town council to appoint a committee of “stakeholders” to consider the recycling facility and any financial arrangements regarding it before entering into a thirty-year “franchise” (monopoly) agreement with Waste Connections. While not responding to that request, Mayor Wood reassured me that the process would be completely transparent. While i have every confidence in Mayor Wood, i was not reassured.
The way it works, and is presently working, is that Waste Connections has private meetings with staff at the town offices. Staff and Waste Connections come up with a plan they like, which has lots of benefits for the town and Waste Connections, and lots of costs for the general public. Staff then sells that plan to the town council. Then it is announced to the public and the locals have a chance to comment at town council meetings. Then the town council thanks the public for their comments, and passes the plan suggested by staff in consultation with Waste Connections.
Why does it work that way? Because Waste Connections is a smart private operator and makes sure there is something in it for the town. Staff likes that because, with the town’s economic problems as of late, money flowing into the town is essential to maintain present staffing and salary levels. The town council likes that because people get mad at the council when staff and programs have to be cut because of a shortfall in tax revenue.
But, when push comes to shove, it is not the staff or the council that has to pay the bill, it is the public. So that’s where i came up with the wild idea that the people paying for this facility should have a chance to take a look at the Waste Connections “plan.” Maybe they could even propose reasonable and more cost-effective alternatives before we get to the “dog and pony show” at the town council meeting. Arguably, business people are good at that sort of thing and just might be able to get a better deal than government officials. Environmentally concerned citizens would bring a sensitivity to the long range impacts of what we are doing with recycling, and might be able to improve the good impacts while minimizing the bad ones. The bottom line is that the public pays the cost, and the public should have the maximum input into something that will cost millions, not just the parties that stand to benefit.
What does the council have to lose? Any committee appointed to help with the formation of a plan and negotiation with interested operators will be entirely and completely subject to the final decision of the council, which is how it should be. But let’s bring this deal out of the backroom, and let some healthful and healing sunshine in before the deal is done.