(FROM THE AUTHOR: THE SUBJECT MATTER IN THIS COLUMN IS AN IMPORTANT LOCAL ISSUE. I SELDOM ASK MY READERS TO DO THIS, BUT TODAY IS DIFFERENT. PLEASE COPY/FORWARD/SHARE THIS COLUMN WITH EVERY ST. JOSEPH CITIZEN WHO IS PAYING TAXES. THEY’LL BE AFFECTED BY THIS, WHETHER THEY AGREE WITH ME OR NOT. THANKS DB)
No sooner than our new mayor and city council were elected, the St. Joseph trash issue has, once again, raised its head. A newly-elected councilman made headlines in the past two weeks, stating that our city looks trashy and that we need a city-operated trash franchise to fix it. He’s championing a change to the city charter that could leave us, as citizens and voters, completely out of the decision.
Unless we, as voters, insist that the matter be voted upon, your monthly trash bill could be highjacked by the city without your consent. I think we already know what would happen to the quality of your trash service if competition between the private services didn’t exist. And I think we know what the cost will be. Just look at your sewer bill. The very idea that the city council would decide upon a franchised trash service without our consent is an absolute outrage and an abuse of the council’s privilege.
Instituting a city-operated trash service by changing the city charter is a direct assault upon your right to have a say in the matter. It’s a way to get it done without asking.
In my opinion, the primary culprit is likely Waste Management, an international waste disposal company headquartered in Houston TX with nearly 400 collection operations in the U.S. and other countries. They are the company that now owns Deffenbaugh. With a well-known track record of buying up small waste collection services and lobbying large businesses and city governments for city franchises, they are the probable source of the whispering voice in the backchannel on this issue. So, citizens, be aware of that.
But let’s talk some common sense here: Did anyone stop to think that franchised trash service and a litter problem are not necessarily related? Unless all the litter in St. Joseph is blowing out of trash trucks, let’s remove them from the litter issue. They’re the guys who are trying to remove the trash.
For you, dear reader, the issue should be 1. Cost and 2. Quality of service. In other words, trash is trash. It’s the stuff we want to get rid of. Most of us want the best price for not having to deal with it.
Cost is an easy and simple mathematical issue. Right now, there are two people involved with your money: you and the owner of your local trash service. The aforementioned city councilman wants to insert a third party into that equation—the city itself. If you put an additional collector between you and your current service, it is an unassailable fact that your cost is going to go up significantly. That will occur either with your collection fee and/or subsidized by taxes. It doesn’t matter how it happens. It will all come out of your pocket. That is an absolute. Why? Because it COSTS X AMOUNT to pick up your trash and sooner or later, someone has to pay the piper. I think you know who those “someones” will be.
Here’s the dictionary’s definition of socialism:
“An economic system in which goods and services are provided through a central system of cooperative and/or government ownership rather than through competition and a free market system.” What the dictionary doesn’t tell you is that the system doesn’t work, and it eventually takes everything out of your pocket.
Litter and the appearance of our city is the other issue. I think everyone agrees that St. Joseph looks trashy and ought to clean up its act. How a franchised city trash service can do that is beyond me. It’s an argument with things I don’t understand. Several decades of life have taught me that when I start to get confused, somebody is making a conscious effort to confuse me.
There is a solution to the litter problem and it doesn’t involve raising your trash bill. The city should put teeth and backbone into its existing statutes. Slapping a $25 fine on a property owner will be nothing more to him than an annoyance. Change the fine so that it hurts. $100 first offense, $500 second offense and $1000 dollars and jail time on the third offense, followed by 30 hours of community service—specifically walking the streets with a scarlet letter on their shirt, picking up the litter. To those of you who think this sounds reactionary, overly-dramatic or harsh, I would point out to you that you won’t be doing it long; they’ll get the message: We are serious about cleaning up this town.
Maybe no one else is willing to say it, but there are people in the world who simply won’t clean up after themselves. Let me be very clear: If you have six rooms full of garbage, more than four cell phones and a 60 inch flatscreen TV in the living room, I’m talking about you. If you can’t pay the fine, we can go straight to the jail time and a full year of community service. Does that hurt? Good. My parents used to say “This is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.” As an immature person, I never understood that, but I always made a slight behavioral adjustment. I didn’t change my behavior out of moral righteousness; I did it to avoid the pain. This is the way people behave when they haven’t grown up.
The important result of this idea is that, after a few examples are made, folks everywhere in St. Joseph will hear the real message: We are serious about cleaning up this town.
If you are reading this and disagreeing, let me ask you something: Would it not be worth trying an idea like this, before we quadruple our trash bills?
Here’s a quick summary:
Regarding the idea of franchising our city’s trash service: The voting citizens of this city need to put their collective foot down and assert their right to be involved in the decision.
Regarding litter: Hit them where it hurts.
Trash is trash. It all looks pretty much the same, wherever you see it. So the only things an independent trash company has to offer you are price—and service.