Reform Before Revenue

 Fix the Dump Before Affixing a New Fee

With little fanfare but a potentially huge impact on citizens, roads and bridges throughout the Commonwealth, several state agencies merged this week to form a new "super" agency called MassDOT, the restructured and refined Massachusetts Department of Transportation.  The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and its associated baggage has been eliminated.  Underneath the massive umbrella of this new agency is the MBTA, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Mass Highway, and the MA Aeronautics Commission, among others.  What is most notable about this merger is that it was built on the concept of "reform before revenue," the mantra established by Senate President Therese Murray which clearly sets the tone for achieving greater efficiency and seeking operational improvements before seeking additional funds from the taxpayers. Although it will be months before we are able to publicly discern the impact of this merger, the focus of reform before revenue has clearly signified a threshold for future experiments in the form of a simple but powerful peoples' demand: before you ask us for more money, show us your plan can work.

Why then, did the reform before revenue memo not make it to the corner conference room of Town Hall? This mandate would have been a great guiding principle for the Selectmen during their recent discussion on the implementation of a $2.50 per bag fee for trash dropped of at the Waste Management Facility on Thomas Landers Road, affectionately known as the dump.  Wouldn't this fee have been much easier to swallow if it came on the heels of sweeping changes rather than being implemented followed by a promise of future improvements?

The concept of the fee as a deterrent to leaving trash at the dump that could be left at the curbside has merit.  Every ton that is left at the dump has to then be transferred (for a fee) to the transfer station on the MMR, then shipped (for a fee) by rail to SEMASS in Rochester where it is incinerated (for a fee).  So, to eliminate as much tonnage that has to travel twice for yet another fee is a good idea.  Many good ideas, though, fail as the victims of lousy implementation, and this implementation is indeed a stinker. 

Town meeting recently approved the expenditure of $200,000 to facilitate improvements and modernization at the dump.  Even more recently, a public meeting held to discuss the future of the dump had to be moved from Town Hall to the Lawrence Auditorium to accommodate the large crowd.  The issue of the management of this facility is clearly dear to the hearts (and basements & garages) of many Falmouthites.  These interested citizens deserve to see what improvements can be made before being asked to dig even deeper into their pockets on top of their dump sticker.

Never mind the silliness of the new fee with no improvements to show for it, what of the practical implications of the fee itself?  We heard at the Selectmen's fee hearing a few ideas tossed about, suggesting a sticker for your trash bag, a coupon book and plain old cash as the means to pay for each bag.  I would suggest that a full plan for how to handle this fee be devised and fully vetted with the interested dumpophiles before yet another new program takes shape.  

Former Selectman Nate Ellis used to say that as long as there is a breath left in any taxpayer, no decision of the Selectmen is final.  As it relates to new fees at the dump, the Selectmen should take a deep breath on this one, consider reform before revenue, and take the new $2.50 per bag fee off the table until the improvements are completed at the dump and a plan is in place to provide public value for another public expense.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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