Below is a copy of the speech that Mt Lebanon resident and Pay As You Throw advocate, Andrew Baram, presented at the Mt Lebanon Commission meeting on February 10th.
I want to start by saying that I recognize you have a tough job, something I did not fully appreciate when I originally became active in municipal matters. As elected officials, it is incumbent that you make decisions and ones that are the best for the community. For whatever reason, when it comes to PAYT, some of you have been unwilling to consider this as an option for our town. Tonight I urge you to reconsider your position.
Ever since this idea was floated there have been headwinds fighting it. When a former junior commissioner put together a benign survey to ask her fellow high school students about PAYT, a municipal employee made her change the survey so it would bias people against PAYT. When the Commission created a task force to study PAYT, this biased survey was submitted and given the same weight as research from a nationally known PAYT expert. A better survey to share would have been the one Public Policy Polling conducted with about 1,000 residents from multiple towns that clearly showed how much residents liked their PAYT program. Across 11 diverse municipalities, including communities like ours, 79% of users have a favorable opinion overall of Pay-As-You- Throw and the majority see it as a fair and easy system to pay for trash services
Our 10-yr. comprehensive plan has only four main recommendations, one of which is to “raise the bar for environmental sustainability.” This input came from us – the residents. Let’s be clear. The decision to turf a few of our fields has nothing to do with sustainability, environmental or financial. We have lowered, not raised the bar. While I understand the comprehensive plan is not an edict, in many recent decisions it clearly was not used as a guide. It is commendable that you are putting recycling cans in the parks and in the business district, but you are kidding yourselves if you think that is going to put a dent into the waste going to landfills. It is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.
There is nothing we can do in our community that comes close to the positive environmental impact of PAYT. Nothing. And it saves money. Thousands of towns have implemented PAYT programs, not because they are all tree-hugging communities, but because it makes fiscal sense.
I’m not sure how many towns you consulted when you made your recent decisions on turf and deer, but I can tell you we have interviewed dozens of towns to ask them about their PAYT programs. They all said the same thing. PAYT works and they would never go back to their old system. The biggest obstacle they report was finding the political fortitude to move forward and the natural tendency to avoid change.
When new residents move from PAYT towns to Mt. Lebanon, they ask why we don’t have a similar system. They are aghast at the amount of trash we throw away. I have multiple neighbors who don’t recycle and routinely throw away 10, 15, 20+ bags a trash a week. My wife recently saw a trash person taking a picture, taking a picture, of the trash in front of one house on his route. It covered the entire front of the lawn. Where is the accountability?
Having incentive programs or increasing education is not the answer. Having gone door-to-door to educate residents about recycling, I know that no incentive program or amount of community outreach will materially change behavior.
Our current system is not fair. Residents who do the right thing and recycle are subsidizing their neighbors who do not. You wanted to move ahead with the newcomers’ tax because you recognize and value fairness. You wanted all residents to contribute equally. That is PAYT. You pay for your fair share. Residents who recycle should not have to pay extra for those who choose to put out lots of trash. Where is the consistency?
PAYT can save our town lots of money. We even had someone guarantee us savings, without us having to put out a dollar. Why? Because PAYT works and it saves money. It is that simple. So why are we not willing to pursue this further and engage our residents in this discussion? When you explain what PAYT is all about, residents get it. And as I pointed out, they actually like it and think it is fair. Residents don’t want to be wasteful and they don’t want their government to be wasteful either. Today in Mt. Lebanon, people don’t know much about PAYT. Let’s spend nothing to inform people and see what feedback we get once people understand the issues. Then we can make a decision.
The task force you appointed voted with only one dissension to further the PAYT discussion. This is not cutting edge or even risky. It is a proven and tested system that has worked for decades in communities just like ours. Residents deserve to learn more and I ask the Commission to vote to conduct a public process on this matter.