Like the large intestine, trash receptacles are something you don't pay much attention to when they're there, but you sure miss them when they're gone.
Thanks to the financial hole the City of Bend has dug itself into, downtown trash receptacles almost went away. Thanks to the Downtown Bend Business Association and Bend Garbage and Recycling, they've been saved - at least for a while.
About 30 of the receptacles - those big, black steel jobs that stand on the sidewalks - were installed by the Bend Urban Renewal Agency more than a decade ago as part of a program to improve and beautify downtown. But this year the city decided it could no longer afford the $20,000-a-year expense of having them emptied.
Enter Chuck Arnold, executive director of the business association. Arnold was able to come to an understanding with Bend Garbage and Recycling under which the garbage company will continue to collect trash from the receptacles for free, as a donation to the nonprofit business group.
"This is a program that is essential to make an urban downtown function, but no one thinks about it," Arnold said in a press release. If the deal with Bend Garbage and Recycling hadn't been worked out, he added, "we would have faced a situation that may have been detrimental to the vitality of downtown Bend."
"May have been detrimental" is putting it mildly. Downtown streets and sidewalks strewn with coffee cups and burrito wrappers would drive away both local shoppers and tourists, as well as further damaging Bend's already sadly tarnished image.
You have to wonder how long this town can survive if City Hall really is so strapped that it can't pay to have the trash bins emptied. "Where is the line drawn next?" Arnold said in an interview. "Will we have to buy bulbs for the street lamps?" Good question.
You also have to ask what this episode says about the city's sense of priorities. Was it really impossible for the city to scrounge up a lousy $20,000 for something as basic as emptying trash cans, even as it spends thousands defending an indefensible Urban Growth Boundary expansion - an expansion that, if it goes through, will put an even greater burden on a city budget whose back is already broken?
Although the downtown trash containers have been saved, the rescue may be only temporary. If the garbage company for some reason decides it no longer is willing or able to continue donating its services, they could be endangered again. The city needs to use the time bought by the deal with the downtown merchants to work out a permanent way of paying for this fundamental public service.
In the meantime, here's a GLASS SLIPPER for Arnold, the DBBA and Bend Garbage and Recycling for getting together and finding a way to keep the trash receptacles on the streets. And here's THE BOOT to City Hall for letting Bend's finances get in such a mess that they had to do it.