The Government’s Monopoly on Garbage
This fiscal year, residents of Tiverton are paying $580,000 through their tax bills for trash collection. The town dump is approaching capacity, however, and due to decades of poor fiscal management, the local government lacks the funds to pay for its closure and for the initiation of an alternative method of disposal. So, the powers who be have imposed a “pay as you throw” program that adds $2 per thirty-gallon bag in the hopes of, first, encouraging recycling and thereby extending the life of the dump and, second, of collecting the money to pay for capping the landfill.
I’ve been arguing that taxpayers already pay roughly the equivalent of one bag per household for trash pickup, and that if each were given that bag, recycling rates would skyrocket such that the town would gain plenty of time for better fiscal management. Indeed, when I first realized that the pay as you throw program was probably inevitable, I managed to cut our weekly curbside trash to thirty gallons, mainly through recycling. Alternately, the town could allow residents to opt out of curbside pickup and receive a refund for the portion of their taxes that pay for it.
Unfortunately, the Town Council thought it better to impose this usage tax on its own authority, and I couldn’t get the votes at the financial town meeting to grant each household the single weekly trash bag for which we already pay. As reported in the May 26 Sakonnet Times, summarizing events at the prior Town Council meeting:
Heard from Town Administrator James Goncalo that Patriot Disposal Company has reported it’s picking up half the trash it had been and needs to add another recycling truck to deal with the increased recycling that residents are engaging in.
Well, there you go. But the best part is the letter that the company sent out to residents:
ATTENTION: TIVERTON RESIDENTS
As you are aware, the Town has implemented a “Pay As You Throw Bag” Program. We would like to offer curbside pickups to residents at a very affordable price with the convenience of not having to purchase bags for all of your waste needs. We will provide trash removal and recycling services on a weekly basis for one low monthly fee. We offer 96-Gallon toters that are easy to wheel to the curbside. Also, unlike bags that rip easily, rodents and animals are not able to access the toters.
A friend who has looked into it found that the service would still come at a little bit of a premium: Using the toters would cost $30 per month, or $6.92 per week, so in the absence of a credit for garbage-related taxes, putting out three 30-gallon bags would be about a dollar less expensive per week — although factoring in the inconvenience of picking up the bags and individually loading them could make a big difference for folks with that much garbage.
Some people in town government apparently fumed when they heard of Patriot’s presumption, but I think it’s a wonderful lesson that municipal leaders ought to encounter from time to time. In seeking to profit from one of the services that it provides (so as to compensate for past mismanagement), the town has opened itself to market competition and risks breaking the spell that leaves residents feeling as if rubbish removal is something that simply must be a public service.
Were it not for regulations, I’d wager that an few unemployed Tivertonians could make some money competing at an even better rate, driving down prices for everybody.