Insufficient notice

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ever since workers began placing big blue plastic cans along the street in front of homes around the city, the phones at City Hall have been ringing off the hook.

It seems that dozens of people each day come home to find the new recycling cans in front of their homes and wonder why they’ve been left there. By the time they complete their investigations, they learn the city has instituted a new mandatory recycling program.

On the heels of that news comes a message that’s even harder for some to swallow: Between the cost of recycling and various other waste-related funds the city is trying to build, there will be new fees totaling $17.50 per month showing up on the property tax bills of every residential property owner in Suffolk.


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What’s most frustrating about the situation for many taxpayers is the fact that it all came as such a surprise.

Now, that’s not to say that nobody knew anything about the city’s plan to inaugurate a new tax for waste disposal services. The City Council meetings where the fee was discussed were all broadcast on Suffolk’s cable channel, and they were webcast and archived on the city’s website. Reporters at this newspaper and the one in Norfolk wrote volumes on the issue. Websites were erected to talk about the perks residents could earn by recycling. And announcements were made on the city’s social media sites.

Many people around Suffolk knew about the plan. But city officials should have been able to predict that many others would have heard nothing about it. Much as we might wish it weren’t so, a high percentage of people in society remains disconnected from the affairs of the place where they live.

Not everyone reads a newspaper, and among those who do, not everyone reads every story in every edition of the newspaper. Even fewer people watch City Council meetings — whether in person, online or on cable television. A significant percentage of Suffolk’s residents is completely disconnected from social media on the Internet, and some are unplugged from the Information Highway entirely.

It would not be hard for most of us to think of a relative or close friend who easily could have missed hearing about the new trash fee. And it should have occurred to Suffolk officials that there are many such disconnected people within the city, who deserved a special effort to reach them. In fact, Suffolk plans to do just that with a postcard mailing that will explain the new recycling program and trash fees.

Those postcards should have been mailed long before the new blue recycling cans began to be placed alongside the roads. Doing so would have saved the city a lot of time on the phone with irate citizens. And it would have removed any potential for those citizens to claim that they have been hoodwinked. Failing to do so was a serious blunder by the administration.