« Home

John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Latest in the NSWMA PR Campaign

In case you haven't been keeping an eye on the NSWMA website, you might be interested to know that their PR hacks and lawyer-lobbyists have put out some fresh propaganda, a web page devoted to their spin on Maplewood.  (In case it vanishes or is edited at some point, here's a printed-to-PDF version for posterity.)  I believe a couple of the e-mails I received yesterday were already repeating its talking points.

A lot of their focus is on the city budget. Let me share a few thoughts in that regard.

First, trash hauling is mandated by the law in Maplewood. You must hire a hauler for weekly pickup, and you can only hire one licensed by the city government.  I guess it's not actually a tax, because you are handing the cash to one of that NSWMA lawyer's clients, not a government employee.  Still, as an elected official, I feel some duty to try and make sure that, if we are requiring residents to buy a specific service from a limited list of private corporations, those services should be delivered efficiently and our residents should be charged as little as possible.

Isn't that just basic "good government"? To do otherwise -- as the NSWMA demands -- seems, dare I say, kinda corrupt.

Second, let's do some back-of-the-envelope math. A White Bear Lake 30-gallon container costs $9.25 per month, including the recycling charge. The average rate reported to the city by our licensed haulers for this size container is $13.87 per month, plus residents pay $2.22 for recycling separately. (This also doesn't include fuel surcharges or any other fees that haulers routinely slip into Maplewood bills, or the lower rate that WBL seniors get.) So call it a difference of $6.84 per month, or $82.08 per year. For a sense of scale, I believe the median Maplewood house pays about $740 this year in city property taxes.

Imagine I told you that it appears there is a service you are required to buy, and a small change in procurement method (hauling contracts bid competitively by neighborhood/zone rather than by individual house) would bring operational efficiencies and market forces such that you could save the equivalent of 11% of your annual city taxes, with no reduction of service.  Wouldn't it be crazy not to look into that, especially in these times when we so often hear about the financial challenges our residents face?

Third, the talking points also discuss some dollar figures concerning the hearing and the possibility of hiring a consultant to manage the planning process if we go forward. One thing to keep in mind is that the numbers provided to us were "not-to-exceed" figures, estimates from staff made without actual proposals for the services.  Another thing to consider is that the proposed funding source is not property taxes, but a grant that can only be used for waste reduction/education/technical assistance, etc.

As for the complexity of the whole process and the need to consider hiring expert consultants in the first place — for that, I believe you can thank the NSWMA and their kin, who helped write so much extra trouble and expense into the law, and now pay their own attorney to attend every meeting we hold and make sure that it is followed in all its needlessly-bureaucratic, pointlessly-complex, protective-of-status-quo-business-interests-over-consumer-interests glory.

Fourth, their web page also tries to stir fear of future costs to adminster an organized collection plan, if one is adopted. That seems dramatically overblown. Administration of our recycling program, which is more intensive (it involves a lot of work with respect to outreach to multifamily dwellings, producing and distributing educational materials, etc.) accounts for a fraction of a single city employee's time.  Relative to the likely savings to Maplewood's 14,882 households, that seems like a great return on investment, without even considering that we might be using some dedicated waste-reduction/management funding source (like the aforementioned grant) instead of property taxes to pay for it, and that we would be reducing other adminstrative expenses we already have in relation to trash (such as licensing the haulers, enforcing the mandatory collection law, etc.).

A final thought: It's kind of nice to be characterized as budget-slashers for a change (they spend a lot of time discussing our "tough cuts in municipal programs"). Usually we get told that we're out-of-control spenders who haven't fired half the city staff like we should every year. Just to be cast as a different kind of demonized public servant is refreshing, even if the effort taken as a whole is a little weak. (In Maplewood, we are accustomed to some pretty over-the-top demonizing in our local political tradition, so elected officials like me have developed high standards.)

But just as a tip for whichever intern was given the job of hashing that piece together: It feels to me like it creates some cognitive dissonance. I mean, if we're obviously frugal on one hand, and then you pose it as a mystery that we'd supposedly be growing the city budget and increasing costs to residents, doesn't that just raise questions? You have to be careful about accidentally stimulating critical thinking, rather than just pushing emotional buttons, when you're writing a manipulative, slanted piece like that. Readers may reflect on whether the people you're speaking for, who profit richly from the current situation at our residents' expense, might not be telling the whole story. And surely you wouldn't want that!

Labels: ,

That financial chart on their websiste is weird. Their big conclusion is that Maplewood's budget has only increased 1% in 4 years? That's WAY under the inflation rate, even ... looks like our council is doing pretty well to me, considering how much other cities' taxes have gone up lately!

If that's their idea of an attack, I've got some anonymous fliers from the election 4 years ago that they should see. Amateurs! ;)

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts

Posts by Date

Powered by Blogger & Blogger Templates. Customized by Michelle Nephew.
Contact me at