There is wisdom to be learned from history
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.
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Extending recycling to rural ratepayers has been dismissed as too hard once before.