My Turn: Michael S. Young: When a pilot program isn’t

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

By Michael S. Young

The city of Salisbury is playing fast and loose with the term “pilot program” to institutionalize change in perpetuity. This has got to stop.

A pilot program (also called a feasibility study or experimental trial) is a small-scale, short-term experiment that helps an organization learn how a large-scale project might work in practice. To be a valid test, it requires: 1) clear goals, 2) a stated length of time, 3) a test group, 4) adoption or buy in 5) feedback or a way to measure results. Be it conversion of customer parking into paid parking for merchants and their employees (a foolish endeavor), or the latest “Dumpster Pilot program,” beyond publishing the goals, the programs are initiated with no end. And without any intention of measuring the results.

The problem: Successful restaurants and business generate a lot of trash. When they started using green rollaway (cans) instead of placing bagged trash and cardboard at the curb, some (but not all) merchants didn’t have a place to store the rollaway. But more problematic, on the weekends, the green rollaway was left on the sidewalk Saturday evening (when the store closed) until Tuesday morning (when the store reopened). It created an eyesore.

 The city’s solution: Remove the rollaway, put one dumpster in the middle of the block and make everyone (restaurants, merchants and residents) shlep their trash to the dumpster a half block away. To sell the idea, we will call it a “pilot program” (which doesn’t sound permanent) and promote it as being a “sustainable solution.”

Sustainability? It is a great goal but there is little net gain here (I will get into that). Is it a pilot program? No length of time was set for the test. Did you get buy in? Few people were consulted and arguably there are better solutions. Feedback and evaluation? What you can measure, you can manage. If you don’t have a measurement system, how will you ever know? Outcomes? My letter from public works says “that the green rollaway will be picked up on Aug. 5 as we transition to a fully-centralized trash collection with a dumpster.” Sounds final to me.

Centrally located, the green rollaway’s currently line downtowns alleys. The problem is that the city will not enter the alleys to empty them, requiring the rollaways to be taken to the curb. The city could fetch them from the alleys and the problem of unsightly rollaways is (mostly) solved.

So, what about “sustainability goals”…

From a sustainability standpoint, downtown’s high density already makes delivering city services (trash collection, policing, fire, water, sewer) the most efficient in the entire city. Wouldn’t it make more sense in achieving the city’s “sustainability goals” to put a central dumpster collection site at the mouth of County Club Hills where providing the same city services is exponentially higher due to low density, larger lot sizes and spread-out homes?

Compare an acre of land downtown to anywhere in the city and downtown generates more property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, MSD taxes and jobs. Its density makes it more efficient to provide all city services including trash collection. We are not making something that is already sustainable, more sustainable. If the mayor doesn’t like the look of the green cans, she is not alone. But permanently removing the green rollaways altogether and calling it a pilot program under the guise of sustainability isn’t the solution.

Michael S. Young is a consultant and former downtown manager. He and his wife Diane live in the former O.O. Rufty General Store in downtown Salisbury.