Waste bills piling up

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Could Kentucky’s biggest city end up taking a cue from the state’s small-town capital? The Courier-Journal reported Wednesday that Louisville’s Solid Waste District is considering new recommendations designed to encourage more recycling, including a “pay-as-you-throw” collection plan – exactly what the Frankfort City Commission enacted this year amid fevered controversy.

Communities big and little are having to reconcile tight budgets with rapidly rising costs of landfill disposal. Frankfort’s last commission ignited a furor among residents when it imposed a $5 monthly fee for garbage collection. The current commission lowered or eliminated fees for most citizens but still drew criticism because some found the pay-to-throw regime objectionable. Moreover, city payroll taxes are going up to help offset loss of the revenue generated by the previous trash fee.

Louisville officials are bracing for their urban and suburban constituents to resist volume-based garbage fees. Maria Koetter, Mayor Greg Fischer’s sustainability coordinator, told the paper she was reluctant to comment on new ideas before getting details, but added, “It comes across as sort of a penalty.” She left the impression she’d rather stimulate recycling in a more positive manner.

That’s been an issue here, too. Frankfort residents who use the smallest trash cart furnished by city government pay no monthly fee but those who need larger containers pay up to $12 a month. The city also charges for special “overflow” plastic bags required when waste exceeds the container size.

Franklin County has adopted a softer sell in its own campaign to expand recycling. The county still has “free” trash collection but warns that could end within five years if residents don’t recycle more to lower landfill expenses. The county also saves money by hiring a private hauler for pickup service. The contractor recently delivered two large containers to each county household, one for recycling and the other for landfill-bound trash. County officials hope people will avail themselves of the opportunity to pack their recycling carts – and thereby reduce the likelihood of monthly collection fees in the future.

Just the discussion of volume penalties has some members of the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Council riled up. “The pay-as-you-throw thing sounds like another way to charge more so you can bring in more dollars,” Republican Kelly Downard told The Courier-Journal. Another Republican, Ken Fleming, conceded it’s not a bad idea to let people know recycling saves money, but he worried that fees based on waste volume portend yet another official infringement on individual choice.

The anti-government sentiment is familiar in Franklin County, where people living outside the city of Frankfort have traditionally appreciated less regulation, more respect for personal choice.

While Jefferson County residents chose to consolidate their city and county governments, Frankfort and Franklin County voters have twice rejected such a concept. Merger is touted to improve public service and make government run more efficiently, but many in this community remain skeptical. A disparity of waste policy continues in Louisville’s merged city and county. While the urban services area for the time being has “free” collection covered by local taxes, suburbanites pay private haulers to provide their service.

Wherever you live, the cost of getting rid of stuff is going up. Local governments may respond differently, but there’s no escaping the ultimate reality.

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