There is wis­dom to be learned from his­tory

The Tribune (NZ) - - CONVERSATIONS - JA­NINE RANKIN

Deja vu is a com­mon sort of feel­ing for coun­cil watch­ers.

It is partly to do with the elec­tion cy­cle, the reg­u­lar in­flux of new coun­cil­lors, new staff and peo­ple who have more ideas for chang­ing things than they have sense of his­tory.

And so it was, when Palmer­ston North city coun­cil­lors were sup­posed to be dis­cussing a by­law change so staff could take a harder line with peo­ple putting stinky trash in their re­cy­cling bins, that mayor Grant Smith di­gressed into con­tro­ver­sial ter­ri­tory.

In short, he pro­posed rub­bish and re­cy­cling col­lec­tion routes should be ex­tended to ev­ery­one in the city.

One or two coun­cil­lors hauled him back to the busi­ness ac­tu­ally un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Wa­ter and waste ser­vices man­ager Robert van Ben­tum at­tempted a brief his­tory les­son, but it was a sani­tised ver­sion with the angst and emo­tion left out.

Smith’s point was that, from time to time, res­i­dents on the fringe of the city ask him why they don’t have a re­cy­cling col­lec­tion ser­vice, even though they see the trucks go by.

Let’s re­trace our steps to 2013, a few months be­fore Smith was first elected as a city coun­cil­lor.

This was at a time when Palmer­ston North had just grown a lit­tle bit big­ger as a con­se­quence of the boundary change agreed with Manawatu¯ Dis­trict.

The af­fected ru­ral res­i­dents were a tad scep­ti­cal and sus­pi­cious.

Some diplo­macy was needed, but in this case, it was rather lack­ing.

It was pro­posed to charge them all $213 in ad­di­tional rates to roll out ex­ten­sions to the kerb­side re­cy­cling col­lec­tion ser­vice.

A sur­vey went to 1378 res­i­dents, ex­plain­ing the ser­vice, and of­fer­ing an opt-out op­tion if the ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents on a par­tic­u­lar street or road wanted to refuse the bill and the ser­vice.

Less than half of the forms were re­turned, with just a few ar­eas crack­ing the thresh­old to win ex­emp­tions.

Some­what un­wisely, the coun­cil de­cided it would count non-replies as a sig­nal of agree­ment.

And then the out­rage erupted, so com­pre­hen­sively that it al­most crip­pled the coun­cil’s abil­ity to get through meet­ing agen­das on any other sub­ject.

Res­i­dents felt they had been tricked, that they had not been prop­erly con­sulted, and the ma­jor­ity of them did not want to pay ex­tra for a ser­vice they had been man­ag­ing with­out quite com­pe­tently un­til then.

In March, there were five dep­u­ta­tions to a coun­cil meet­ing. One of them won an ex­emp­tion.

In early May, three neigh­bour­hoods turned up, and two of them were al­lowed to opt out.

At the end of May, there were another seven pe­ti­tions rep­re­sent­ing more than 140 peo­ple all ob­ject­ing to the im­po­si­tion of the ser­vice.

The whole thing had to be binned in light of the ex­clu­sions granted, un­der­min­ing the eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity of the patch­work of ins and outs on the col­lec­tion routes.

Bun­nythorpe and Long­burn vil­lages were to re­main in, but the ru­ral ar­eas be­came just too hard.

Lessons might have been learned, we would have hoped, and not too eas­ily for­got­ten.

At­ti­tudes out in the coun­try­side might have changed since then and maybe the mayor is right to con­sider a re­view.

But it has proven to be a fraught is­sue, one that should be ap­proached with care, not as a sur­prise ad­di­tion to some other busi­ness.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The Tribune wel­comes let­ters. They should not ex­ceed 250 words and must carry a gen­uine name, home ad­dress and day­time phone num­ber. Let­ters may be edited, abridged or omit­ted with­out ex­pla­na­tion. They can be emailed to tribune@msl.co.nz or posted to PO Box 3, Palmer­ston North to be re­ceived by 4pm on the Thurs­day prior to pub­li­ca­tion.

Ex­tend­ing re­cy­cling to ru­ral ratepay­ers has been dis­missed as too hard once be­fore.

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