Warner: The RTM’s Self-Created Predicament

Letter to the editor from Mike Warner

Unless sensible RTM members vote to “step back from the brink,” the RTM could be pressured to vote for an “urgent” measure that would disrupt the daily lives of every Greenwich citizen by imposing on them a set of complicated and impractical regulations that they must follow just to dispose of their Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).

What is surprising is the reason for this “urgent” RTM action: To offset a relativelyminor shortfall to the town’s MSW budget for next year. With great urgency, and little debate or analysis, RTM budget hawks have declared an emergency, arguing that the RTM must fill a “hole” in the town’s budget before the June budget is passed, in order to avoid a significant impact on the mill rate.

What is even more surprising is their proposed solution: Offset the relatively small shortfall by shifting the entire town budget for MSW from the town’s books directly to its citizens who would pay the cost for waste disposal out of their own

But the facts do not support any of these assertions: neither the drive for urgency, the giant “hole” in next year’s budget nor the impact on the mill rate.

While it is true that the budget line item for MSW will increase next year, the increase is minor, less than one percent, well within the town’s current budget guidelines.

For example, if the RTM voted not to “offset” this increase, next year’s mill rate would increase from 11.85 to 11.96. This means if you owned a $2 million dollar home, your annual taxes for MSW would increase by a whopping $145.00. Is this
a reason for the RTM to urgently adopt a plan that would inflict a complicated, and costly waste removal regulations on its citizens?

The RTM should not be intimidated by budget hawks who act as if this is a fire drill and we are forced to choose between two bad options: Pay as You Throw” (PAYT) or “Tipping Fees,” which would require all residents to prove their
residency (think beach pass) then purchase a “Resident Pass” to use the town’s recycling facility.

The environmental goals of the PAYT option are commendable, but the Orwellian behavioral controls and expensive regulations make it unacceptable to most citizens.

The only other option under consideration is to charge haulers “Tipping Fees.” Who would mysteriously not pass these additional costs along to citizens, increasing their out-of-pocket expenses for waste removal?

What’s sad is that there are many other good options that aren’t being considered for the town to meet its financial goals and reduce its environmental footprint. One example: Many of our neighbors employ tipping fees, for commercial customers (and non-profits?) only. This approach would keep the cost for residential customers in the budget, avoid having to purchase a “Resident Permit” and allow them to deduct the cost of waste removal from their tax bills.

Further it would avoid the unfair impact to middle income residents who would be forced to pay out-of-pocket cash for a routine town service. Other untried approaches to improve compliance toward environmental goals are to increase enforcement, enhance citizen education or simplify the regulations.

The paradox is that the Greenwich RTM is rushing to adopt a quick solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s true that the town should address the growing cost of waste disposal, but there is no urgency to do so now, without adequate thought or discussion.

The town can and should sustain a minor budget increase now, so the RTM can consider and adopt a smart solution in the future.

Mike Warner
District 7