Success -- or failure -- of curbside recycling rests with mayor
The mayor has proposed a fee for twice-weekly trash collection to pay for a new service.
CITY taxpayers, already feeling the crunch of a new excise tax, soaring property taxes and rising sewer fees, might not be too keen on paying another toll for twice-weekly trash pickup.
They might not have to if Mayor Mufi Hannemann and his administration properly carry out a well-crafted curbside recycling program, an effort voters and the City Council have overwhelming endorsed. However, a poorly designed and executed program that proves too costly would set up curbside recycling for failure.
To ensure success, Hannemann should seek out the best programs in other cities, much like he has done with the mass transit project, and adapt them to suit Honolulu.
The mayor presented only sketchy outlines for curbside recycling in a speech this week, promising he'll have more details later. But what he did say seemed to put a pessimistic cast on a program that could redirect thousands of tons of reusable materials away from the city's landfill.
While saying he favors curbside recycling, Hannemann also warned that "it's going to cost," and admonished taxpayers for indulging in "a culture here where everything is free when it comes to our opala."
Residents well know that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Their property taxes, which have risen significantly in the past few years, have always paid for opala collections. Further, with 2006 property values up an average of 15.1 percent, at least part of the cost of recycling could be covered by the $109 million budget surplus the city expects to collect.
The mayor puts the program's cost at $8 million, proposing that regular trash collections be cut to once a week and switching the second day of service to recyclable materials. Residents who want twice-weekly trash service would pay $10 a month, ostensibly to cover recycling costs. But lacking a financial plan or a program blueprint, the numbers can't be evaluated.
Hannemann said he will hold public meetings "to see which communities will step up" to participate. This places the burden of coming up with a workable plan on taxpayers, a job he was elected to carry out.
It also gives him political cover, which he acknowledged, saying that by taking this approach, "It will be clear to the people of Honolulu that if it doesn't happen, it's not the mayor and his administration. It's either the public that doesn't want to pay or the City Council that doesn't want to assess the fee."
That's not quite right. The mayor cannot duck his responsibilities as the city's chief executive. But he can put a feather in his cap if he charts a feasible recycling system and crunches the numbers to pull it off with no fee or at minimal costs. He also will take a step toward his commitment "to leaving this a better place than I found it."