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Mon, Sept. 23

Commentary: When it comes to garbage, there is no shortage of trash talk

Trash, water and sewer.

For decades, in cities and towns across America, people received a monthly bill from their local municipality for these three essential services.

All were a municipal responsibility. As a matter of convenience, you received one bill for all three services.

That began to change in many communities about 30 years ago. Cities and towns opted, for one reason or another, to get out of the garbage collection business.

That move was prompted about a decade earlier when the then-fledgling Environmental Protection Agency established new rules that impacted the manner in which your garbage was disposed. Especially in the western United States, the most common practice of city-operated garbage service was to dig a deep trench in a remote area, dump and burn the trash. When the trench was full, fill it over with dirt and dig a new trench.

That eventually went the way of environmentally safe professional landfills, such as the one that serves the Verde Valley off State Route 169.

Once cities and towns no longer were in control of where and how they disposed of your garbage, many followed suit by getting out of the trash business altogether.

Ever since then, there has been an ongoing debate about which method best serves the public when it comes to garbage collection: 1) private haulers who work in a free-market; 2) city-operated garbage collection; or, 3) a private single-hauler system determined by a competitive bid process.

Which is best? That largely depends on the community in which you live. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the best method to collect garbage.

The Verde Valley is a perfect example of this. Camp Verde, for example, operates under a pure free-market system. For as far back as the 1980s, to provide uniformity on pick-up days and to save wear and tear on its streets, Clarkdale has used a single-hauler system with Patriot Disposal being the town’s single hauler of choice since 2007.

Cottonwood is now entertaining the idea of going the Clarkdale route on garbage collection. It’s exploring a single-hauler system, largely to save wear and tear on city streets.

It represents change. True to human nature, a lot of people are threatened by change. We saw much of that human nature on display Tuesday when the City Council held its first work session to hear from city staff and the community on the pros and cons of a single-hauler system.

Likewise, there has been a garbage truck full of comments on the single-hauler system, some rather trashy, in the landfill otherwise known as social media this week.

It’s funny how an issue viewed as a perfectly acceptable business practice in tranquil Clarkdale has created a firestorm in Cottonwood.

If Cottonwood does end up going to a single-hauler system through a competitive bidding process, the city will be heavily criticized. Some of it will be deserved. For example, as for the wear and tear of city streets, why are garbage trucks being singled out for regulation? What about cement trucks? Rock-and-materials delivery trucks? Eighteen-wheelers that roll into town to deliver products to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and local grocery stores? Is it fair to single out garbage trucks for the degradation of local streets?

Further, do the citizens of Cottonwood need Big Brother deciding for them who they do business with when it comes to garbage collection?

Many of the Cottonwood folks who oppose a single-hauler system have tossed out baseless accusations that the city is exploring change so it can enrich its coffers or line the pockets of elected officials.

Those claims are ridiculous and out of line. There is nothing wrong with elected officials wanting to stave off deterioration of its infrastructure. There is no corruption or collusion going on here. At worst, you have elected officials trying to do something good through a misguided approach.

The slap on the hand for trashy behavior in this debate goes both ways. Councilman Michael Mathews was out of line in chastising Taylor Waste for sending out a letter urging the community to attend Tuesday’s hearing and speak out against the city going to a single-hauler system.

“I am very disappointed by the campaign initiated by Taylor Waste. It seemed aimed at torpedoing this discussion before it even got off the ground, with false assumptions,” said Mathews.

“Torpedoing the discussion … with false assumptions.” You can read the letter for yourself to assess the accuracy of Mathews’ claim. The Taylor Waste letter is a rather straightforward assessment of the facts. It urges the community to be part of the discussion on the single-hauler debate.

If anything, city council members should have praised Taylor Waste for doing such a good job in inspiring the community to participate in this local government process.

It also bears emphasis that Taylor Waste did all this in a fully public manner. The letter is posted on the company’s Facebook page. There was full transparency. Nothing at all like Mr. Mathews’ use of private email – in violation of Arizona’s public records law – to rally public support on operations at the Cottonwood Airport. Apparently it’s OK for an elected official to go behind the public’s back to encourage citizen advocacy for a cause he believes in, but it’s under-handed for a private business to do it with full transparency.

Ditto for Mr. Mathews’ back-handed accusation of dirty political dealings by past members of the Cottonwood City Council. “There are accusations council is starting this process to benefit and enrich a certain provider. I very much take offense to those allegations. This is not the council of the past.”

Actually, it is. Vice Mayor Tosca Henry and Council Member Deb Althouse served on the council for two years before Mathews was elected. Mayor Tim Elinski has served for a dozen or more years. Former Mayor Ruben Jauregui’s council’s service goes back two decades.

Or, was he insulting the scores of former elected officials who served Cottonwood with honor, integrity and decency before the council was cleansed with Mathews’ presence.

There is one thing we can all learn from this week’s discussion on a single-hauler system for Cottonwood.

When it comes to garbage, there is no shortage of trash talk.

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