The community of Fountain Hills, Arizona has a new plan to streamline its trash collecting services and save money. But some Tea Partiers think it stinks.
The Arizona Republic reported this weekend about the intense debate surrounding a change to the community’s garbage collection services. Currently, Fountain Hills’ 25,000 residents can choose between five different collectors. Under the new system, the community has hired a single trash collector to meet the town’s garbage hauling needs, collection days will be reduced to once-a-week, and curbside recycling services will be added. ABC15 reports that Town Manager Rick Davis estimated “total savings to reach about $1,000,000 a year,” and that officials also hope the changes will cut down on pollution, noise, and traffic.
Tea Party groups have come out strongly against the measure. The Republic reports some people have dubbed it “trashcare,” as if it were the local, municipal waste-related cousin of “Obamacare.” Fliers were distributed that read “The Hills Will Have Eyes,” and which raised the specter of a “Fountain Hills Green Police” poking around citizens’ garbage bins. On its website, Arizona Campaign for Liberty warned that “The Fountain Hills Mayor & Town Council is attempting to restrict resident’s choice in trash services by forcing residents into a single payer system!” The Fountain Hills Tea Party’s website reads, “Once more, government is trying to interfere with free market economics.”
The Town Council took up the measure last Thursday. And after a nearly five-hour public hearing and council debate, the council finally approved a five-year contract with Allied Waste Services with a 4-3 vote. (ABC15 reports that even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio attended the meeting and expressed his opposition. [h/t HuffPo]) But the fight is not over. A “Talkin’ Trash” town hall has been organized by the Fountain Hills Tea Party for November 16. Fountain Hills’ mayor, town manager, and three of its councilmembers are scheduled to attend.
Jeff Cohen, chairman of the “Committee for Fair Representation” and one of the Fountain Hills residents opposed to the change, told The Huffington Post in an e-mail that the bid process was “rigged” and that residents “will see their collection fees rise every year, which is mandated in the contract.” Cohen also wrote:
The move towards socialism was a remark made by one gentleman at a town council meeting. The problem that residents have with this measure is that it creates a system of hefty fines for simple sorting mistakes, such as misplacing a plastic bag. $3,000 fines are possible for a repeated offense, which will be observed by garbage men with cameras. That is akin to citizen spying and is not a value Fountain Hills resident want to uphold.
Fountain Hills Tea Party member Shawn Dow told The Huffington Post that the group opposes the garbage collection changes because they “violate the principles of the free market.”
But in an interview with TPM, Fountain Hills Mayor Jay Schlum attributed the opposition to “misinformation.” Any talk of a “trash police” or “green police” is false, the mayor said, pointing out that nobody in Fountain Hills has ever been cited or fined for trash violations, and he didn’t expect that to change.
Schlum said he has received “pointed” emails, and has seen the websites opposing the measure, but noted that the atmosphere in town was civil. “Everybody was very respectful,” Schlum said of last week’s Town Council meeting.
“The people that came, all of them did a fine job of speaking their mind in a respectful way,” Schlum said. “It’s a small town, we all know each other.”
Schlum says he’s received more email about this issue than any other one he’s seen in his two years as mayor. But while the emails before last Thursday tended to be from people opposing the change, since then Schlum reports he’s received more messages in support.
He said he had friends on both side of the issue, and expressed understanding for those concerned with government taking choices away from citizens, no matter how small. But he offered an assurance:
“If this doesn’t work, it’s a contract, and we can get out of it,” he said. “That’s the beauty of doing it in a smaller town.”