Residents win great trash debate

May 17, 1999

I've been leaning a bit heavily on local governments lately, but perhaps we, the local people, stand up and take some abuse as well. And I am speaking specifically here of the uproar created when the Hagerstown City Council tried to scale back to once a week trash pickup.

Apparently, people were afraid their homes would start to resemble the old sanctuary in Alice's Restaurant if they were unable to haul their expendables and their rot-ables out less than twice a week.

OK, I guess, but of all the major, important issues this city faces concerning jobs, businesses, stores, beautification, stadiums, art districts, crime control and vacant buildings, the one thing people get worked up about is whether they can set their garbage out on the curb one night or two.

The citizens prevailed. In the true spirit of democracy, they marched on City Hall and had the second evening of trash collection restored. Score one for the Jeffersonian Democrats and the American Way.


And yet.

Not that they would have disapproved of this civil outburst, but, somehow, I think that when the old Founderooskis were contemplating a more perfect nation, they had something a little heavier in mind than twice weekly trash pickup.

The City Council blithely said, fine, you can have your twice-a-week collection, but it will cost you more in garbage taxes. And everyone went home satisfied.

Really though, how jagged is that? If you tell this community they need to pay more tax for education, they'll take your head off. But more taxes so as not to disturb the biweekly garbage ritual? Why nothing is too good for our refuse.

It's that C word. Try to change something and people around here freak. The School Board should be listening. If they want extra revenue, all they have to do is say "Well, we could keep your taxes at the same level, but, to do that, we would have to change your morning bus-stop time from 7:58 to 7:53." They'll pay the tax; just please, please, don't bust up their comfort zones.

We have several other theories at the paper as to why the trash question caused such a stir.

Perhaps it was an issue - as opposed to double taxation to pay for the county sewer debt out of the general fund - that people could finally wrap their brains around. "Two nights, one night, Two nights, one night. Two nights, one night. Heeey, wait a minute, that's different."

Another thought was that it wasn't so much an issue with the people in Hagerstown who put out the garbage as it was with the people in Hagerstown who pick through the garbage in the late evening hours before the truck comes. You're effectively reducing their number of shopping days by half.

I thought scaling back on trash collection was a good idea, if not for fiscal reasons, then for domestic violence reasons. If you get all your news from sitcoms and comic strips, and I do, you know how many fights break out over a wife nagging her husband to get up off the couch and take out the garbage.

Think of all the trouble Fred Flintstone would have avoided with Wilma if Bedrock had just had one-day-a-week trash collection. Fred Flintstone, Rob Petrie, Dagwood Bumstead, Jethro Bodine, Andy Capp, Homer Simpson, Archie Bunker - all of these men have suffered from dysfunctional trash syndrome, no doubt the result of overcollection.

The city kept the paper recycling program, too, darn it. I recycle paper strictly out of guilt. Although I am tempted to recycle out of malice, which would involve taking my newspaper bundles and dropping them on the doorstep of the unused First Urban Fiber plant.

Now, there was a city boondoggle worthy of public protest.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail staff columnist.

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