Reality Check

The Enemy of Affordable Housing

Forfeiting freedom of choice to government mandate is terrible public policy

By Tammi Fisher

When the late, great Jim Dupont was a Flathead County commissioner, he and I would have regular meetings driving around the county dump where I had a first-hand glimpse of the good things going on at the county landfill. The landfill is rapidly growing to keep pace with the population.

Recognizing this, I started recycling. After all, it’s hard to be a conservative and not do my part to conserve space at the landfill. Because I am lazy, I pay for the pickup service, but I can afford it, and I like doing it. I even ventured into composting until my husband set my compost container on fire. (That’s a story for another day.) We haul all of our remaining garbage to the dump ourselves. There’s no additional fee to haul our trash to the dump; we pay for the use of the landfill for daily waste on our county tax bills. This keeps our lifestyle costs low, leaving more money in our pockets to pay other expenses that seem to keep climbing in this inflation-dogged economy. 

The freedom to haul our garbage and recycle of our own volition is not given to all Flathead Valley residents. In particular, the City of Whitefish now mandates recycling, adding $6.25 to every Whitefish resident’s garbage bill per month – regardless of whether the resident recycles. This new fee doesn’t include the additional administrative fee the city proposes to add when it takes over billing for garbage and recycling. And the fee is subject to annual rate adjustments every July.

So now it is more expensive for residents to live in the City of Whitefish. Every resident on a fixed income faces the highest sewer and water rates in the State of Montana, mandatory garbage pickup through the city’s chosen vendor, and now mandatory recycling with an administrative fee attached.

And here’s the kicker: the city also mandates what the recycling products are stored in, which amounts to Granny now wheeling around a 96-gallon rollout cart. It is a misdemeanor criminal infraction to mispackage your recycling; you must make sure it’s free of debris (i.e., no pizza crumbs, no coffee stains), rinsed, and if you place plastic other than #1 and #2 in the bin, you get fined for that. Ironically, in its zeal to follow its “Climate Action Plan,” the city leaves out the most significant cardboard and milk jug consumers: commercial taxpayers, forcing Granny alone to shoulder the financial burden. Forfeiting freedom of choice to government mandate is terrible public policy; it’s not lost on any of us the hypocrisy of Whitefish consistently crying about a lack of affordable housing, all the while increasing the cost of housing by government mandate.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney, former mayor of Kalispell and host of Montana Values Podcast.

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