Our Opinion: Trash action better than trash talking

Making sure trash collection works smoothly and efficiently is one of those humdrum tasks, like road repair and streetlight maintenance, that taxpayers expect their elected civic leaders to handle with a minimum of fuss or fanfare. Now Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer has come forth with a sensible recommendation to upgrade and streamline trash collection, and the response from some city councilors is to dither and delay.

The mayor's proposal, which she unveiled at the November 21 City Council meeting (Eagle, November 24) for a new ordinance addressing trash pickup is not revolutionary, nor is it untested. In fact, collection using standardized containers is already working successfully in 145 communities in Massachusetts, including several in Berkshire County. By using two standard totes per household, one for regular trash and a larger one for recycling, the city can save six-figure sums through greater efficiency and reduction of waste, and alleviate blight resulting from windblown trash originating from torn or open trash bags. That sorry spectacle does harm to a city that is trying to attract business and residents to address a population loss.

As with any "new" idea in Pittsfield there is blow-back from those who abhor change of any kind to the status quo. One of the legitimate questions raised by councilors and the general public involves how many gallons the pails should hold. Then there are worries about high up-front costs associated with buying the totes, estimated at $1.3 million, and illegal dumping as trash producers balk at the idea of buying extra overflow bags at a set price.

These are all genuine issues to be resolved, as they have been in other communities, not excuses for delay or inaction. At this past Tuesday's City Council meeting, the entire subject was tabled by one councilor invoking a charter objection. Excuses like needing to hear more from constituents before doing acting are dilatory tactics designed to avoid the responsibility that these officials were elected to take. The trash can has likely been kicked down the road to January at the earliest.

What the residents of Pittsfield need, besides modernizing a system that currently hauls unlimited trash at low efficiency and high cost, is further education on the topic. Taxpayers are currently financing unlimited trash pickup, including furniture and other bulky items, which is costly and labor-intensive, as Finance Director Matt Kerwood explained to the City Council. This is unfair to the small trash producers who are subsidizing larger ones. After the initial expense, the city could save $150,000 or more annually depending on the amount of solid waste is reduced.

"Hand-wringing around these issues will not solve our problems," warned Mayor Tyer, and unfortunately hand-wringing around issues has paralyzed the city in the past. Indications are that this is already happening with the proposed institution of a beneficial new trash system that does not involve reinventing the wheel. Councilors should go beyond merely talking trash and do something about the problem, and the sooner the better.


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