WHAT WE THINK: We smell a deal for a garbage plan

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City and county officials appear to be thinking the correct thought: Establish curbside garbage and recycling pickup for residents.

We are seeing encouraging signals that Shelby County Fiscal Court and the Shelbyville City Council are on the verge of accomplishing something magnificent and wonderful, even if it is at least a decade overdue:

Officials of the county and city appear moving toward establishing curbside pickup of garbage and recycling for all residents.

We don’t mean to be presumptuous, because no ordinance has been drafted or presented. A misstep or politics or fear could emerge, and the public again could be left holding its own trash bags.

But that wouldn’t be acceptable, and some leaders in our county appear to be recognizing that.

Some of them have known an embarrassing fact that we now know: Shelby County, an elite and admired county by state standards, has been an island of anachronism, ringed, as it is, by counties that already provide this basic garbage service for their residents.

We will grant you Jefferson, Franklin and even Oldham – if we must – but how can Shelby trail Henry and Spencer counties in anything? We are more populous, more prosperous and more generous. To have less of a quality of life is unthinkable.

And now maybe that no longer will be the case.

This week, the Legislative Committee of fiscal court is meeting to study garbage plans in other counties, to discuss how such measures might work in Shelby and, hopefully, to think about drafting an ordinance sometime soon.

Shelbyville City Council last week surprised us by canceling its regularly scheduled meeting and having a workshop on garbage/recycling service. The discussion included measures that are in place in other cities – including Simpsonville, which has provided curbside for several years, albeit a bit expensive and void of the recycling – which would be an unthinkable omission.

City council has scheduled a second, similar workshop for Thursday, too. We trust an ordinance will be forthcoming. And we are relieved, because we had seen not even a modicum of interest from council members in addressing this topic.

None of them attended the 109 Board’s recent public meeting in the city to explain and tout its planned new garbage-and-recycling facility it would build in the Shelby County Industrial Park. No one had stepped out in front on this issue, as has Magistrate Tony Carriss, to ask questions about how solid waste should be handled in this county.

The 109 Board’s facility is wonderfully planned and expertly presented. But it is the wrong plan.

We don’t say this because many residents who recently attended those five public meetings expressed dissatisfaction with the board’s proposed new facility for Windhurst Way in Shelbyville and the fees that could accompany that facility.

We aren’t advocating this position because some residents who attended asked about having curbside service as other counties have.

We don’t demand this because we think the 109 Board has been negligent. The board was doing its job in the manner its members thought best. Its concept would be terrific for the status quo, but we need to pitch status quo into a landfill and bury it deep.

It is long past time to do the right thing when it comes to solid-waste and recycling.

The existing system, which costs every property owner 3.5 cents per $100 of taxable land value, isn’t satisfactory. Residents already have to pay for companies to pick up their garbage, and some of them – the vast majority – have to do the work if they want to do the right thing and recycle.

Property owners shouldn’t have to pay for a recycling system and do the sorting and transporting as well.

Here is how we see the best possible solution:

  • Fiscal court and city council jointly would bid a contract with a single garbage pickup company to establish a flat rate for curbside garbage and recycling, including yard trash and once-a-month collection of large items.
  • The city of Simpsonville, seeing that there is a gap in its services, offers its citizens curbside recycling, which would be funded by a $1.50 per month reduction in the steep $3 “service charge” the city pockets each month. When its garbage collection contract is next open for negotiation, the city commission could seek new bids that accommodate both services, perhaps also tying into the county’s contract.
  • The 109 Board saves its $2.5 million construction cost, splits the 25 acres it owns on Windhurst and builds a smaller facility to use as a central collection point to replace its problematic centers in Waddy and on 7th Street. The board divests itself of excess real estate holdings and votes to reduce its 3.5-cent rate to something more like 1.5 cents. Surely with curbside service, $300,000 or so a year would be appropriate to cover oversight for existing landfills and some basic support for the contractors.

No matter if that optimal plan were to evolve, we see at the end of this a vast improvement of services, one or two garbage companies traveling and damaging our roads rather than the half-dozen or more that do so now, a reduction in property taxes and the fulfillment of an overarching goal of the 109 Board.

Board Chair Rusty Newton has said often that the board’s primary goal for its new facility would be to increase recycling and decrease garbage going into landfills.

What more logical and appropriate method is there to meet that goal than to pick up recyclable materials at curbside and transport them to the proper outlets.

As we see it, any other plan to handle our refuse should be refused and dumped.