Monday, April 09, 2007

The Living is Just Too Damn Free and Easy Here in the Trash-Monger’s Paradise

At the risk of coming across as a gimlet-eyed, tooth-grinding bore---or, more accurately, an even bigger gimlet-eyed, tooth-grinding bore---we must return to the issue of the recommended $3.50-a-month “waste reduction fee” for the city of Houston, which we will henceforth refer to simply as the proposed garbage tax.

We took note, as did others, that the Upper West Siders of the Houston Chronicle editorial board donned their revealing cheerleader outfits Sunday to slap their pom-poms and cut some rather shakily executed backflips on behalf of the garbage-tax recommendation by Mayor Bill White’s Solid Waste Task Force. Declaring Houston to be a “trash-monger’s paradise” (a catchy new city motto, don’t you think?), the Upper West Siders then claimed that
Heavy trash, a $28 million expense, gets whisked away free each month.
BlogHouston has pointed out that the editorial went on to contradict itself on that issue only four paragraphs later, so we see no reason to wheeze on refuting this obviously screwy assertion but instead will refer to the very first page of the “well researched proposals” of White’s task force, as the editorial described them, wherein it is flatly stated that
City solid waste services are provided without a user fee, which is a rare situation in Texas. While many residents look upon the City service as “free” it of course is not free but has both monetary and societal costs because 1.) taxpayers fund it …
Well, there you have it. Perhaps it would have been too much exertion to read the thing, which is posted on-line and can be accessed from the air-conditioned comfort of the home office.

Although the editorial’s author or authors seemed quite enamored of the task force’s projection that its proposals will save the city $14 million of the $28 million currently spent on free monthly heavy-trash pick-up, closer scrutiny might have led him, her or them to wonder why a proposed five-sixths reduction in service would result in only a projected one-half savings in three years (that’s because, as Ubu Roi, a blogger with a deep appreciation for the surreal, notes, this one won’t actually result in much in the way of “waste reduction,” the ostensible guise in which the garbage tax comes clothed.)

We write here as a humble payer of city property and sales taxes and regular user (not abuser, nor “monger”) of both heavy trash (the proud 30 percent, we guess) and recycling pick-up, and as such we of course have noticed that we keep paying more each year in property taxes to the city but aren’t getting any more in services. Not even a teensy bit more. Perhaps the Hearst Corp. does not pay its editorial writers enough to afford a standalone home, even at the very favorable terms now available, and that state of affairs that has left them with the misimpression that the whisking is on the house.

Now there may be some sensible recommendations in the task force’s report, particularly regarding "out of ordinance” service and the revival of city compositing, but we hope the mayor isn't just buying time when he suggests the entire report can stand as a point of departure for further discussion. Much further. Hell, it's remotely possible we might even be persuaded that some nominal monthly fee is warranted, although it would take more than a "succinct slide presentation" by the task force, omission of which the Chronicle found to be the biggest problem with the report's presentation (y'know, a colorful PowerPoint to boil it down for you stupes). Said discussion might begin with the priorities of a city that can find the pocket change to fund an office to tend the needs of non-citizens and agitate for comprehensive immigration reform, to cite one dubious (and, yeah, admittedly minor) expense.

Then our newly engaged and empowered city council members could move on to examining the priorities of a transit agency that dabbles in real estate development to improve ridership---we know, "dabbles" isn’t quite the right word for a $7.2 million deal---and then leaves hanging the question of whether it might try to wiggle out of paying property taxes on the parcel while it holds the land for repurchase by a private developer.

Which brings us way around to the question of why someone (that is, besides us, a mere rank-and-file trashmonger) hasn’t pinned Mayor White’s ears back on the Metro deal. If we remember correctly, the mayor appoints a majority of the Metro board, including the chairman, with the council's approval. These are among the same trustees who exercised their fiduciary duties last month by approving the land purchase with no public discussion. Not even a post-approval press release from their press-release factory. Imagine that!

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