Trash Talkin' in Pepper Pike

It's nothing new - from learning in the fall of 2009 that the refuse collection system would be reshaped and involve scooters, to the question now regarding a fee for service structure in order to protect the continuation of rear-yard pick up.

In fact, the issue of fee for services has been raised multiple times in the 18 months I've been on Council, starting well over a year ago when City Council Member, Gail Mayland, introduced the idea of exploring this in regard to garbage pick-up.  Then, last summer, resident, former City Council member and potential mayoral candidate Rick Bain, listed fees for service as an alternative revenue stream (alternative to an increase in the City's income tax rate) in this letter to the editor.  (For those who've been following City doings closely, the April 2011 Financial Review Committee Report is silent on fees for service related to rubbish removal - that document was signed off on by seven residents, including potential City Council candidate Jim LeMay.)

During the June 2011 City Council Meeting, the mayor raised the issue again.  His remarks in support of the need to implement a $25 per month fee for all Pepper Pike residents will of course be in that meeting's minutes.  But the discussion resulted in a desire by some Council members to survey the residents to determine the preference: if you had to pay an additional $25 per month to preserve rear-yard garbage pick-up, would you pay the fee to keep that service?

I'm in support of a survey to know the preferences of all the City's taxpayers because I've wanted a real, broad-based resident and community survey almost since I was sworn in. Why? As I've written before:
As you can see from the surveys done by Shaker Heights (here you will find three - 2002, 2007 and 2009) and Orange Village (here), these tools provide an enormous amount of information that comes directly from the residents.  The former three were done by a private company and the latter was done by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.
It is, after all, your money.

Yes, elected officials must make the decisions.  But as we learned from the two town halls last year and numerous council meetings, long-range strategic planning committee meetings of last winter and spring and numerous other instances, there absolutely is not consensus among Pepper Pike's taxpayers as to how they define or prioritize city services. Even when we thought we could say nearly everyone prioritized safety services, the answers to the questions about what that means, what it should cost and how we should pay for it were all over the place (some residents saying they'll literally pay anything to have as many police as we've had for 10 years, some residents saying they don't even need most of the police and fire services so why pay for them at all, some residents insisting that our dispatch center cannot possibly be done outside the city, other residents insisting we must let the dispatch center go).
For me, gathering and possessing the data - data which is in fact your input - as to whether you want your money spent, how you want it spent and within what cost ranges you want it spent - is critical to City decision-making when it comes to spending the City's revenues - which are, again, your tax dollars.  While I'm thrilled to think people supported my election to Council for any number of reasons - including knowing that ultimately I make decisions via my analytical abilities, in a City with just under 6000 residents, there is no excuse for not at least seeking out the taxpayers' preferences during a time of extreme scrutiny around our City's fiscal situation.

I know how I feel about the rubbish fee. And I've never hidden that when asked.  But I am just one vote, one taxpayer.  And I can promise you that I've literally stood between residents, as recently as this past week, who disagree 100%.  Residents from the same demographics, who've lived here as long as one another (and it's several years).  Who feel completely differently: one said that they absolutely positively would pay the fee to keep the service.  The other resident has no interest under any circumstances in paying a fee to keep rear-yard pick up.  Offering up all the "but what if..."s didn't make a difference for either of these residents - and this is not unique.

Come on - go ahead. Talk trash with me.

Bonus reflections

So, during 2009, I attended every single Road & Safety and City Council meeting starting in March.  Every single one.  But through nearly 50 hours or so of public meetings, this very expansive change involving the move to scooters and how garbage would be picked up (which has now been in operation for a year and a half) was not spoken of in public session until the Council meeting of September 16, 2009, a week before a letter went out announcing the changes to all residents.

Why is this and was this remarkable to me? Because I thought surely changing something as central to the services performed by and expected of a city as garbage pick up would be something that would get some airing and some input in relation to the taxpayers. Not crazy, I thought.

So I called the law director and, it was explained to me, that garbage pick-up - how it's done - is an administrative function.  And the mayor has control over all administrative functions, while Council is limited to legislative and appropriation matters.  So for example, the appropriations related to the changes? Those would have to come before Council and those discussions would be public.  But the change of how garbage is to be picked up, in and of itself - an administrative function.

As I've been on Council since January 2010, I've repeatedly talked about a charter review because this ability for core changes to be made outside of any public discussion, so long as they fall under administrative functions, has continued to niggle at me: How can Council act as a check and balance if it doesn't even have to know certain things?  Granted, the idea of a strong mayor-weak council form of government, such as we have in our charter, allows for this - is in fact the default.  And it relies on the idea that a mayor is elected with full knowledge of the voters that his or her authority extends this far.

But, I've kept wondering, is that really consistent with 21st century expectations of openness and transparency? Depending on how the work is carried out, maybe - maybe not.

What's this got to do with trash talking? Well - for all the potential unpleasantness of a hot topic being out in the open and about learning, knowing and being asked to express an opinion that may differ from your neighbors, I believe in the value of gathering and having those opinions.  Because if learning about, knowing and understanding the taxpayers' preferences in regard to their money which becomes the City's revenues isn't directly germane to how those of us elected to make decisions actually make decisions, tell me what else is there?

So again, I must entreat: talk trash to us.


Ron W said...

Jill - Assuming the choice is between a fee for service vs an income tax increase to keep the trash pick-up as is, then I'm in favor of a fee structure. It is the fairest approach to share the burden among all residents.

I prefer rear yard pick-up to curbside pick-up almost exclusively for aesthetic reasons. I feel that rows of trash cans regularly lining the streets would cheapen our community and negatively affect property values.

I also really appreciate your tireless efforts to inform & encourage input from Pepper Pike citizens. Keep up the good work.

Jill said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Ron. You make several points that other residents and council members have noted.

Also thanks for the kind words re: efforts to keep folks informed - but I am possibly even more grateful when residents make the effort to go on the record themselves - many people aren't interested or for whatever reason, even fearful of doing so.

It also always make me smile to think that those who do speak up just might be future candidates for elected office! ;)