In last week's column, I suggested we send a memo to Town Manager Bob Whritenour to have him heed one of the golden rules of local government: you don't mess with the dump. I don't think he got the memo. Imagine my surprise this week when I learned that the town is actually considering privatizing this slice of Falmouth lore. If you are among those who wrote a letter or expressed concern about "dumpart-gate," where sculpture made by local artist Susan Beardsley was removed from everyone's favorite public facility, then sharpen your pencils and dust off your keyboards. If the town is really serious about this clunker of an idea, two things are true: our Selectmen haven't spent much time at the dump and don't realize how important it is to the soul of this community, and our DPW Director Ray Jack has not read the aforementioned golden rule.
In these perilous financial times, efforts are being made in virtually every municipality from sea to shining sea to save money, and privatizing government functions is always near the top of the list - and for good reason. Sometimes, in fact many times, the private sector can do things better than government. Running a local transfer station isn't one of them. Believe this: if Waste Management, some other garbage conglomerate, or even an overly ambitious local firm takes over on Thomas Landers Road, we will lose local control, local involvement, and local flavor. Say goodbye to dump art. Say goodbye to the Pick of the Litter. Say goodbye to accessibility. Say hello to outrageous charges for waste disposal and non-locals manning the gates who don't care if you've lived here a minute or your whole life. Say hello to impersonal, corporate sanitization of the dump.
I've seen it happen before - a company promises efficiency, cost savings, and cash to a town to take over its transfer station - then the town laments soon thereafter the loss of local control. The character of this facility should not be erased for the sake of a quick buck.
Ray Jack's idea (and motivation for privatization) that the income from the dump should equal the cost to run it is the same thinking that has gotten us double-digit increases in our water rates. Some government services don't need to pay for themselves - that's why we have property taxes. We pay the town to provide us services - a balanced give and take relationship. To make each service pay for itself is a pile-on-the-taxpayer mentality that just doesn't work - how much more can we afford? One thing is for sure - costs for waste disposal will not go down with a private dump - they will need to cover costs and make a profit.
A Town Hall Committee is investigating this. Conspicuously absent from the committee are any citizens, employees from the dump, or even members of our own Solid Waste Advisory Committee. A cynic might gather that a decision has already been made and that the committee is being formed to justify that foregone conclusion. Not being a cynic, I'll simply suggest that this oversight can be remedied by the transparency Selectmen often speak of - the addition of community members to the dump investigation group, which can affectionately be named DIG.
If the idea is revenue from this facility, why not consider some use for the capped portion of the landfill? The gas venting system was designed to be reworked to allow for a post-closure use. Landfills across the nation are making money as wind farms, solar fields, parking lots, golf courses - and much more. That's the kind of forward thinking I would like to see from Town Hall when it comes to the dump. That's usually what we see from a progressive and thoughtful Ray Jack. He just missed the mark on this one. Please Ray, pop this trial balloon and dispose of the latex at our dump.
This article is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.