There was nearly a full house for Monday night's public hearing on proposed changes to the City of Batavia's garbage collection law.
Most speakers -- and most applauders -- argued for some variation of "keep Genesee ARC" as the city's official garbage collection agency.
A couple of speakers said the city should get out of the garbage business.
There was no vote or comment by the council itself Monday. Council members did what they do at public hearings -- sat and listened.
The council is considering a proposed change to the ordinance that would take the cost of garbage collection off the tax rolls, end a 28-year relationship with Genesee ARC, and leave it up to each individual resident to contract with a garbage collection company of his or her choice.
Even the speakers who favor free choice said they would go with Genesee ARC if the price was competitive.
"If ARC chooses to provide trash service I will go with them," said John Roach, who supports the proposal to get the city out of the trash business. "It's the right thing to do and a good many people feel the same way."
But many supporters, such as Carol Grasso, said the city has pulled a fast one on residents by proposing a single-payer, pay-as-you-throw tote system and then when people protested, just saying, "OK, we'll get out of the trash business."
"Council may have misunderstood what we wanted," Grasso said. "Many of us wanted it to stay the way it was."
Grasso suggested that if the council votes for the new ordinance, come November, local voters may just "throw out the garbage."
Mary Ellen Wilber suggested that supporters of ARC may just seek the 400 signatures necessary for a ballot initiative to overturn any decision that gets the city out of the trash business.
"We need to do something together as a city and work together," Wilbur said. "You guys need to understand it wasn’t really broken. I don’t know what happened that this came to this point, but it has to be equitable for everybody."
Thomas Houseknecht said the proposed change unfairly increases the cost for city residents who can least afford the increase and offered to serve on a committee that would help the city come up with a better plan for garbage collection.
Several people made such an offer, and even supporters of choice, such as Jim Rosenbeck, said the city hasn't collected enough public input, studied the issue thoroughly and given it enough time.
"Trying to make the decision in two months is unfair to people," Rosenbeck said.
While he also offered to serve on a trash committee, Rosenbeck clearly favors getting the city out of the trash business.
"I don't believe the sky will fall if the city gets out of the trash collection business," Rosenbeck said. "It works in the town. It works in other communities. I think if trash piles up on the streets, you folks are charged with making sure that's taken care of, and I trust that you will."
Donna Rae Sutherland said the city getting out of the trash business is "bad governance" because it's the city's responsibility to provide shared services that benefit all residents.
Part of the economic calculation, she said, needs to include the local impact of Genesee ARC on jobs created, taxes paid, money spent locally -- the whole multiplier effect of local employment.
A trash collection committee should be formed, she said, to come up with a plan in conjunction with ARC that will increase recycling and create shared revenue with the city.
A select-your-own system, she said, is just going to lead to problems.
"Absentee landlords and unruly tenants will certainly clash over who pays and who is responsible for trash collection," Sutherland said. "Neighbors with garbage contacts and business owners with Dumpsters will find other people’s trash added to their own. Pocket parks and green spaces and back alleys will become drop garbage zones and our streets will become more congested with trash vendors."
Roach said, free choice works in other communities and there's no reason it can't work in Batavia.
"Former City Council President Charlie Mallow has moved to Webster where they have this free choice system and everybody has a different service provider," Roach said. "According to the former city council president, it is not a major problem, trucks running up and down the streets or anything like that. It’s workable. Glens Falls doesn’t have a problem. Saratoga doesn’t have a problem. The Town of Batavia doesn’t have a problem. Get out of the trash business. I don’t need anybody telling me who I have to hire."