Sanitation In The Pink

Dear Readers,
The council considered amputation, but decided to save the limb. Some of them came prepared to saw away, if necessary, but the diagnosis showed city sanitation services (trash and recycling pickup) were rosy-pink healthy and worth saving.
Public Works Dept. service cuts were suggested when the state, hammered by the bad economy, withheld expected revenue from the city. It was unfortunate timing. The city had just decided to make costly renovations to the Public Works Department. So, the renovations have proceeded like a driver with a flat tire – still focused on getting to his destination, reluctant to stop, and hoping he can get there on three good wheels and one mushy one.

Anxiety over the economy, high taxes, and the city budget has sparked discussion about where the city might find ways to lower the budget and taxes by cutting city services – and maybe stopping, reducing or reconfiguring the Public Works renovation.
Easy to say, but hard to do. For every taxpayer who wants relief, there is at least one other taxpayer (sometimes the same taxpayer) who doesn’t want to give up services. The renovations are strongly supported by most of the council, so the project continues toward construction.
But, to address the anxiety, at its Feb. 8th meeting the council agreed to look at potential Public Works service cuts that might affect the ongoing renovation plans. They didn’t want to erect an expensive new building only to cut the service it housed.
Sticking it to MoCo!
A service cut might not only save taxpayer’s money, it would stick it to the county. One option is to force Montgomery County to provide a service that the city discontinues. This would be poetic justice. The city is permanently PO’ed that the county does not return the city’s full share of tax revenues, forcing residents to pay (partially) for duplicate county services we don’t get. Vengeance would be OURS!
But not so fast, Masked Avenger! The fact is, as councilmember Colleen Clay informed the rest of her colleagues, sanitation service is not one the city pays twice for.
Oh, oops.
Outweighing the Cons
Councilmember Fred Schultz laid out the reasons for keeping sanitation services. Residents would end up paying about the same or even more in fees for similar county or contractor services. Unlike city taxes, fees are not a tax deduction.
The city, Schultz said, would lose staff numbers and flexibility to deal with emergencies (such as the recent 2 ft deep snowstorm). The sanitation crews make up the second shift that the city often calls upon to drive snowplows.
As Schultz and other councilmembers stressed, it makes no sense to end a reliable service that gets high resident approval. “Why are we looking at this first?” queried Councilmember Terry Seamens.
And, finally, Schultz said that if the county took over, residents would be dealing with a larger more remote entity. Basic functions should be kept close to home, he said. As councilmember Dan Robinson said earlier, “spend our own taxes on our own staff and equipment.”
A Little Off The Top
Since they had their scalpels and saws out already, the council suggested other trims they could make. Schultz asked the Public Works director Daryl Braithwaite if her department could get by with just one of the two new trucks the city was planning to buy. She said it could.
Terry Seamens said that cutting fall leaf pickups and allowing leaves to “compost in place” would not only save some money but would be a good environmental practice. The council pondered this with a long “hmmm, how’s that going to go over with service-demanding residents?” sort of pause.
Seamens also suggested scrutinizing lower-rated services, such as the Recreation Department, as places to cut.
Public Works director Braithwaite passed on Councilmember Josh Wright’s suggestion (he was not there, Mayor Williams posed the question on his behalf) that the department power its trucks with compressed gas as the county does. Braithwaite said the department tried it 15 years ago and it was, she said, a disaster. It was not cleaner or cheaper, she said, adding that new diesel engines are efficient and can use bio-fuel.
Heading another suggestion off at the pass, Mayor Williams warned that if the city handed road maintenance over to the county, residents would not be happy with the result. The city is on a 20 year street replacement cycle, the county is on a 40 year cycle. The county, he said, would therefore not begin to replace the most worn city streets for another two decades.
So, Dear Readers, looks like the Public Works renovation is going to make it on three wheels.
Snow Day
Speaking of snow emergencies, this most recent storm was a bit much even for Takoma Park’s crews and equipment – though the city is, as usual, better dug-out than surrounding jurisdictions. The city offices and community center are closed today, Monday, Feb 8. The councilmembers all put on snowsuits this morning and went outside to make snowmen. Next council meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 16.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

4 Comments on "Sanitation In The Pink"

  1. u know, if there wasn’t a city of takoma park there would be no budget crisis and better yet, no city taxes period! i mean what’s the use of this place? the zoning laws are not enforced – all services are being turned over to the county – the police are little more than Baldwin Phelps “detectives” that enforce the non enforcement of immigration laws here – all for what? so that a bunch of high-minded “community activists” can waste time sitting around once a week in the city gym (oh yeah) planning the next way to steal our money at the point of a gun! end it! disincorporate! it would be the greenest thing one could do for the environment.

  2. Serious question: if you dislike it so much, and you don’t want locally-provided services, why do you live here? It is a small city and there is a great deal of unincorporated Montgomery or Prince George’s County just over the city line.
    Oh, and if there was no Takoma Park, your budget crisis would be worse because you’d be in unincorporated Montgomery County – which has not found the resources to fill it’s budget gap as the city has. Also, the point of the article is that the city is NOT turning over services to the county – so, what are you talking about?
    – Gilbert

  3. Tom Gagliardo | February 8, 2010 at 9:46 pm |

    1. Why is there never a solution? Why is it, doggone it, that status quo is were we always end up? It seems like the council is always getting all dressed up, but never has any place to go.
    2. Here are two alternative ideas: (1) compare the cost of providing garbage pickup and recycling with contracting for the service (an idea I’m not that keen about); or (2) offer to provide the service beyond city limits to close-by areas as a means of spreading fixed costs and increasing revenue. Must be even better ideas floating around.
    2. Love it or leave it is the antithesis of democracy. Bad Gilbert. Bad, bad Gilbert.
    3. FYI. Flower Avenue outside of the city and Franklin and Wayne and many surrounding streets were almost down to bare pavement on Saturday afternoon. Flower inside the city (I know it’s not the city’s responsibility to plow) was badly snow-covered even this afternoon, as is virtually every other city street — except Carroll and Philadelphia, which also are state highways. I don’t for a minute doubt TP crews worked long hours and I, like many others, are greatful for their effort, but why the (dramatic) difference?

  4. Tom,
    They did discuss the alternative of contracting it out and they didn’t like it for probably the same reasons you don’t.
    The staff said it is nigh impossible to calculate cost comparisons between city/county/contractor provided sanitation services because there are so many factors, such as the advantage that the sanitation crew is second shift for snow-plowing – how do you calculate the exact worth per-taxpayer on that? There are also complications such as the fact that all taxpayers contribute to sanitation service costs, but only homeowners get those services, not apartment dwellers/owners who are already paying fees.
    We didn’t say “love it or leave it.” We are merely curious why someone would live here (or move here in the first place) if they didn’t like the way the city is set up.
    – Gilbert

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