- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Amid intense public opposition to a proposed pilot program that would have provided curbside trash collection service in four St. Charles neighborhoods, the Charles County commissioners elected to not move forward with the initiative Tuesday and canceled a public hearing on the matter that evening.
The proposal — which would have solicited bids for a contract to pick up trash in the Bannister, Carrington, Wakefield and Huntington communities — has frequently been ridiculed at public forums by private haulers and residents alike.
It is common for large, urban jurisdictions to contract out trash-hauling services. The previous board of commissioners made a push toward centralized trash collection in 2009, but that proposal also died due to public opposition. It received new life under the current board in 2011, but outcry was immediate and the commissioners elected early last year to postpone implementation of the program.
Charles County Chamber of Commerce President Craig J. Renner said that a principal concern was whether small, local haulers would be able to compete for the contract with larger companies or even a potential county-created public hauling service.
“Many local haulers are members of the chamber, and they all felt that the way this was organized, they wouldn’t be able to effectively compete for the contract,” he said.
But Renner, a spokesman for The St. Charles Cos., also noted that there are communities that want centralized trash pickup.
“In a lot of neighborhoods, and particularly our Westlake Village neighborhoods, there was some support for this,” he said. “A lot of our residents like the idea of a single trash pickup service, and in some of our newer neighborhoods, like Sheffield and Gleneagles, we provide that.”
The program initially had been requested by the Westlake Village Association, “but somewhere in this process, I guess, it got lost and ended up on the Smallwood side” of Waldorf, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.
“The whole point of this is to have a major benefit for our citizens, that they would get the same or better service at the same rate,” she added.
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said he thought the measure would have had majority support from the board, including from him, had the public opposition not been so great.
“What I couldn’t get beyond was, how can you provide and attempt to review a service like this when the people you’re serving say they don’t want it?” he said. “It was just a tough sell to get beyond that.”
Collins said the program would have provided trash service similar to what currently exists in neighborhoods that contract with a single hauling company.
In communities without a lone contractor, residents are free to hire haulers individually, “and in those instances, you may have up to three different haulers coming into the varying communities, and in many instances it’s different days,” he said. “The continuity of service in my opinion would have been a benefit to the citizens, but they like being able to choose who provides that service.”
Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) said he “wasn’t crazy about the whole idea in the first place,” given that it took choice away from communities and could hurt local small businesses.
“I think it should be up to the neighborhoods and the HOAs,” Rucci said. “We shouldn’t be involved with it right now, just from all the feedback. People should have the right to choose who they want. Maybe down the road if we become bigger, but we’re not a city.”
Given the sweltering summer temperatures, Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said that the board elected to save citizens a Tuesday evening trip to the county government building in La Plata because it was clear the commissioners would vote to kill the proposal.
“Honestly, it was very obvious that if we proceeded with the public hearing, we would have spent several hours listening to those opposed and ultimately reached the decision we reached earlier in the evening,” he said. “In this case, the public was very vocal in making phone calls and sending emails in advance of the public hearing.”
Robinson credited local trash haulers with doing “a pretty good job of getting their customers lined up.”
“Basically, a lot of the emails talked about how these particular citizens love their trash companies,” he said. “You never know what’s going to turn out to be political, and this was one of those things that I didn’t see coming. It was democracy in action.”
Collins noted that “some communities have been asking for this,” but Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said the problem was that the program would have started in some neighborhoods that didn’t.
“It became apparent that the neighborhoods that originally wanted it weren’t going to be involved in the [program], and it just took on a life of its own,” Davis said. “It was just best to drop back and punt because I don’t think it’s something that should come from the commissioners. It should come from the community.”
Robinson hinted that a pilot program could crop up again in the future if a neighborhood were to formally propose one to the county, specifically mentioning Westlake Village.
“I don’t think it was necessarily a bad idea that was proposed,” he added.
Likewise, Kelly said any future proposal “needs to be initiated at the community level, and they have to be involved in setting the parameters, not us.”
“It would save money and there were some good things about it, but it’s going to have to come from the public,” Davis agreed.
Though he said he believes there are “limited circumstances” when it’s incumbent on elected officials to make unpopular decisions that are in the public’s best interest, Collins said, “I kind of separate this from that because I think clearly this is a matter where you have to seek the buy-in from the public to make a move like this.”
“My opinion has always been that trash service is a responsibility of government to some degree,” he added. “As the county grows, many of these issues will arise and we’ll start looking at these issues.”