Here’s an idea for New Castle officials interesting in cutting costs:

Eliminate street maintenance this winter.

Just think of all the money the city could save. No need to buy all that expensive salt. Thousands could be trimmed in fuel costs, as well as wear and tear on vehicles.

And city employees could be laid off, adding even more to the savings.

Isn’t that a great idea?

Of course not. It’s an idiotic idea. Any municipal savings would be more than offset by costs residents incur from vehicle damage, medical care and lost work time. If the idea is to save money, this example shows the real goal isn’t to protect city coffers; it’s to protect the pocketbooks of residents by making cost-effective decisions.

The same could be said when it comes to recycling. Some members of city council have gotten it into their heads that real savings are possible by eliminating New Castle’s recycling program. It doesn’t generate revenue, so get rid of it.

This makes about as much sense as giving up road salt.

Set aside, for the moment, the fact that recycling is state law for municipalities of a certain size. (New Castle and most surrounding townships fall into that category.) Instead, let’s limit our discussion to costs and consequences.

It’s a fact that recycling is hardly a cash cow. There’s no money to be made in most recyclables, particularly in a depressed economy. The city has to pay to have the material hauled away.

The state does provide grant money to municipalities that recycle. But even if city government fails to break even on recycling, does this mean the program is a bad idea?

Consider the consequences. If New Castle ends its recycling program, what happens then? For one thing, Lawrence County’s drop-off recycling program can expect to be inundated, particularly at those bins set up in and around the city.

And, as you may recall, this program already has had its share of problems with sites not being kept clean and bins overflowing with materials. Some sites have been closed as a result, and a flood of recyclables from New Castle would make matters worse and perhaps lead to the elimination of additional sites.

Next, many residents would opt to put their recyclables in the city’s blue trash bags, which they must buy. They may theoretically save something on their taxes (would the city eliminate jobs?), but residents would pay even more for additional trash disposal.

That’s assuming they are decent, responsible citizens. If they aren’t, the recyclables — along with their other trash — will wind up tossed over a hillside somewhere. New Castle already has plenty of illegal dumpsites, creating eyesores and health hazards. Does it want more?

So let’s review: Eliminating New Castle’s recycling program would cost it state grant dollars and might mean financial penalties, not to mention a likely decrease in state cooperation. It would also hurt relationships with a county government suddenly burdened with city recyclables. And it would add to the costs of residents who would pay more in disposal fees and the decreased quality of life that results from illegal dumping.

It’s important to remember that the ultimate purpose of municipal government is to make the lives of residents easier by providing essential services in a cost-effective manner. That’s especially so with those services that cannot be reasonably replicated by the private sector.

Which brings up a point. If council members want to cut costs, they need to look at privatizing garbage collection. That might save money without compromising service.

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