WHAT WE THINK: This is a decision that really smells

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Shelby County's plan to step away from providing curbside garbage and recycling is the wrong decision at the wrong time.

The Shelby County Fiscal Court Legislative Committee’s plan to “step away” from creating curbside garbage and recycling for residents should be trashed.

This is no time to step away from doing what is right, and there is no mitigating argument that will sway our belief that Shelby Countians should be able to discard trash and recyclables without having to drive somewhere or pay a third party to do so.

This is the time for Shelby County to move forward with a decision that should have been made 15 years ago. The expectation of protecting our environment – i.e. solid-waste removal and recylcling – ranks behind only education, safety and roads as a primary responsibility of local government. We believe most residents would agree.

Such services are in place and functioning appropriately – albeit certainly not without individual “issues” among users – in thousands of jurisdictions across the country. Why couldn’t that work in Shelby County? Do we propose to have problems so unique that they don’t exist elsewhere and can’t be solved? Are we so much smarter that our residents don’t need this service?

We doubt that.

Remember: There are curbside pickup plans in place for every county surrounding Shelby.

Do we really want to continue to be an island of wretched refuse?

The members of the county’s Legislative Committee are fine men whose commitment to the community is well-documented, but in this case they are abdicating their responsibility for the future of Shelby County. Their decision to “step away” is both myopic and inexplicable.

Do we really want to allow our county not to help its residents to recycle more easily? Do we really want our county to make it more difficult and expensive to dispose of solid waste and other oversized disposables? Do we really want to allow our county to give its residents the tacit approval to dump on the side of the road without impunity?

That’s what this decision does – all of that. We are left with residents who may act at their own disposal because they won’t have an incumbent investment in doing what is right.

Certainly individuals prefer the status quo. Comfortable processes and developed relationships make change difficult. We understand that. But this is a change that would be good at every turn.

That’s why we are not going to engage in debating the points of critics who emerged last week and managed to raze the landscape of this seemingly on-track discussion. Those issues largely are based on personal preferences and comforts. We understand those and understand the vehemence they bring with them.


Where this decision leaves us

But we don’t accept those as insurmountable to doing the right thing. We simply can’t get past where the status quote leaves us in this case:

  • We will continue to have a very low percentage of residents doing the morally appropriate thing and recycling consistently. That process will be left to those individuals who conscientiously pack up and drive to recycling centers to deliver their goods. Don’t you think more people would recycle if they didn’t have to sort and transport? Most assuredly.
  • The 109 Board will move ahead – and its chair, Rusty Newton, said as much – with its plan to build its “Trash Mahal,” a solid-waste collection and recycling center in Shelbyville that will cost taxpayers at least $3.2 million to build and probably more (as most government projects do) and is being constructed for a culture of the past and with no regard for the real needs of the future. This de facto lack of foresight by our leaders is about waste all right, an illogical waste of taxpayers’ money.
  • Property owners will continue to have to pay 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to underwrite this new center, its employees and its growth in the future. We do not share Mr. Newton’s optimism that this amount can be reduced – unless a curbside plan is in place and the 109 Board’s concept rendered unnecessary.
  • Residents who transport their trash to that facility will continue to have the costs of time and transportation – more for some, less for others, based on the more central location – and will have to pay an additional 3 to 5 cents per pound for any trash that isn’t recycled. Do you think that figure will get smaller as time goes by and costs rise? We doubt it.
  • Landfills to which Shelby County’s trash then will be transported – as it is now – will continue to fill up and will become farther and farther away, and the expense of transporting and disposing of all the county’s garbage will continue to rise, which means tax assessments could rise – a matter no member of the Legislative Committee can address or prohibit. That’s the 109 Board’s purview.
  • Trucks from multiple garbage haulers will continue to send trucks daily across our roads, eating way at our asphalt and causing more expense to keep small county roads sufficiently surfaced.
  • Individuals who have personal garbage collection will have to pay for all those aforementioned taxes and fees and also maintain their payments to garbage haulers as well. Why should some residents be required to pay for both the taxes and fees that fund solid-waste removal and also to have a service do the work for them? On top of that, these residents will feel no more compelled to recycle, because that practice will remain difficult and no one will incent them to do so.

Yes, this all adds up to a real plan for our future, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that create an image of a progressive Shelby County that we find appropriate? Why not make it all so much easier?

We understand the loudest critics get the largest ears in any debate for the public good, but this isn’t about government “staying out” of an individual’s business. Government provides all manners of laws and services that affect individuals in far more significant ways. This is about the collective being more economically beneficial than the individual.


Where are the conservationists?

But that’s really just “business.” We are far more concerned about the future and the well being of our land and our future residents. We think it’s time for those who understand these issues to speak up as well,

All the students in our schools who are taught about the troubles ahead for our environment and the principles of recycling should stand up and be heard.

Members of the Clear Creek Conservation Trust, Maintain Our Rural Environment and Shelby County Organized for Preservation & Enhancement – organizations invested in ensuring the quality of our land and our future – should advocate for doing the right thing and creating a recycling plan that can grow.

This debate can’t end with a small hearing on a Wednesday night just five days before Earth Day, a celebration that reinforces our duty to the public good and the caretaking of our planet. This is too quick and too deadly for all that is right.

We can’t let this end with the city of Shelbyville being heroic for doing the right thing and creating a plan and the rest of the county being victimized by a pusillanimous posturing by our leaders.

When it comes to matters of the public good, typically there is one thing that separates good people from making good decisions: politics.

In this decision about garbage we recognize the stench of politics.