Our Opinion: Council spinning wheels on city trash issue

Considering the gingerly way that Pittsfield city councilors have treating the issue of an alternative trash pickup plan since Mayor Linda Tyer first introduced the topic, you'd assume the trash totes in question were packed with Faberg eggs rather than the wretched refuse of teeming kitchens. Trash pickup is one of those fraught aspects of running a city that can cause city councilors to recoil in fear because it touches every constituent quite literally close to home.

Last November, Mayor Tyer and Finance Director Matt Kerwood proposed a sensible plan, already proven effective in 145 Massachusetts communities as well as several in Berkshire County, to streamline and standardize the wasteful, haphazard and counterproductive system that Pittsfield currently has in place. It would involve wheeled totes supplied by the city — one for regular trash, one for recycling — for each household. If the containers proved too small for some customers, extra trash bags would be made available at a price — again, a sensible solution that would eliminate the current policy which calls upon low-volume trash producers to subsidize larger ones.

While there would be a hefty one-time up-front cost to the city for the standardized equipment (estimated at $1.3 million), Pittsfield could save upwards of $150,000 per year depending on how much residents could curb their production and increase their recycling. Furthermore, the adoption of a mandatory tote system would make it less likely that bags of trash left at curbside would rupture and create civic blight. The addition of an enforcement fine structure for littering would further incentivize customers to be responsible neighbors and citizens.

Cue the protests from residents who like things just the way they are and made their sentiments quite clear to their local ward councilors. In fact, just the fear of potential blow-back was enough to cause one councilor to invoke a charter objection last year calling a halt to all discussion at the November meeting when Mayor Tyer introduced the plan. The matter was tabled while councilors were allowed to take the matter back to constituents, which is to say abrogate the responsibility Pittsfield residents pay them to shoulder.

Concerns were voiced about the up-front costs; the difficulties the new system would create for elderly users (questionable, in light of the fact other towns already using such a system have managed to address the problem); reservations about the capacity of the containers and unfair penalties to innocent users for their neighbors' sloppiness. There is nothing here that cannot be worked out. The council, however, even failed to take a vote on the plan presented, which would have forced them to furnish reasons for their "no" vote and provide valuable guidance toward fine-tuning the plan. All members could agree to do was dump the issue back on the mayor.

The City Council, as President Peter Marchetti said Tuesday, is "continuing to spin the wheels" rather than provide forward momentum. If there are ways to, for example, lower the up-front cost they should be explored, but it is not enough to stall this plan while trying to assure that it is the mayor who gets all the blame, justified or unjustified, from residents . This kind of trash plan works elsewhere and will work here. That will require teamwork as opposed to needless wheel-spinning.


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