Monday, November 20, 2006

Canning the Trash Fee?...

Today, as reported by The Republican and Urban Compass, Judge Constance Sweeney issued a temporary injunction against the city’s collection of the Trash Fee, pending a hearing to deterring its legality.

At issue is whether the fee constitutes a tax, which can only be implemented by the legislature or by the city with the legislature's consent. Sweeney, apparently deeming residents' arguments, including those of State Representative Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, also a plaintiff in the suit, as having merit. According to Urban Compass and the Republican, at issue is the fact that trash collection is already underwritten by the city. While the fee will be used to pay for the trash pickup, it only does so by removing the money from the DPW‘s budget that normally comes from general revenue. The saved money would be used for other city expenses. Strangely enough, in my opinion, this ruling if made permanent could have a serious impact on other cities', not towns as most impose a fee or have no pickup at all, ability to impose trash fees.

Should the residents' suit prevail, it will throw the city's budget out of balance. Hopefully, for the sake of improvements made and capital plans announced, the control board will simply make only modest cuts to reduce the inevitable need to tap the state $52 million loan, already more than half depleted.

Interestingly enough, this could set the stage for Governor-elect Deval Patrick’s first tussle over the Control Board, perhaps even forcing him to spend his political capital on Springfield, despite previous intuition to the contrary. Patrick, who will likely have taken over the puppet strings of the Control Board by the time this gets settled out, may need to use legislation, executive fiat, or simply political clout to do so. He may remember, as any good governor of a state with many older industrial cities should, that Springfield is just the tip of the iceberg. Other cities in this state face the same challenges and can stave off Springfield’s fate for only so long. Serious action needs to be taken to prevent a domino effect of urban fiscal failure, and simply stringing them lines to Boston’s commuter rail doesn’t cut it.

This comes, coincidently, after The Republican highlighted potential mayoral contenders including Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera. I would hope she would not resort to this type of grandstanding to touch off a campaign, whether she is right or not. I guess it really does not matter. With a Patrick administration, her fervent, if not a little loud, advocacy of Springfield might not be so bad as mayor. Still, she makes a better elected official, than a newsmaker.

Turning my attention to another topic, as I seldom do, Starbucks on East Columbus Avenue was vandalized recently according to Urban Compass. The extent of the damage closed its drive through. I do not think Starbucks will leave town over this. The place is too busy for that to happen and they’re used to eco-terrorism. Punk vandals can’t match that. However, it may thwart future attempts for them to expand locally. I’m not wading into the Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts vs. local coffee purveyors debate. However, I do know that a Starbucks in Springfield was a good thing as an investment in the city part of a larger Hall-of-Fame area transformation. Maybe after repairs, a security camera posted nearby, and some police drive-bys, future investors will not perceive Starbuck’s move as a failure and bring their businesses to the area, too.

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