Selectmen Wrangle Over Trash Program
By: John Paradise
Selectmen got their first look last night at the detailed plan for implementing the new pay-as-you-throw trash policy at the town transfer station, which is scheduled to begin July 1.
After about an hour of discussion and some debate about delaying the start of the program until January, the board voted 4-1 to give Department of Public Works Director Paul S. Tilton the authorization to enter into the necessary contracts to get the program going.
Selectman Ralph A. Vitacco was the one dissenting vote. He told his fellow selectmen that he thought the board was rushing the implementation of the program a bit.
"People need more time,” he said, "to get use to the idea."
"We're asking them to change their garbage habits," he said. "I'm all for [the program], but I think we have to ease people into it."
Under this program, residents will be required to buy specially made trash bags for a price set by the town and use only these bags to dispose of their trash at the transfer station. Residents will still be required to pay for an annual transfer sticker fee.
With the town's disposal fees with the SEMASS waste-to-energy plant in Rochester expected to triple by 2015, town officials have been grappling with how best to soften the blow to the town's finances.
The hope is that the new pay-as-you-throw program will encourage residents to reduce their trash output by recycling more. The less trash residents produce, the fewer bags they will need to buy, the less it will cost them.
Mr. Vitacco said he was in favor of delaying the start of the program until January 1. In that way, the town would have more time to education the community about the various aspects of pay-as-you-throw and would allow residents time to get use to the concept.
The other board members were not buying this argument. They said the majority of the community knows what the trash plans are and that Mr. Tilton will spend the next two months getting even more information out to the public.
Selectman Dana P. Barrette said the change will take some getting use to whenever it is implemented, so why not sooner than later? "People won't change their [trash] habits until they are forced to," he said.
Mr. Tilton added that by starting the program early, the town would immediately begin saving money on disposal costs. "The money we save this year could hold down costs next year," he said.
Mr. Vitacco also pointed out that the transfer station stickers that people have now are good through the end of the year. He said some residents are upset by the fact that they purchased their $110 stickers at the beginning of the year with the understanding that they could throw out as much garbage as they wanted throughout the year.
"I agree that when people forked over their $110 there was an implied contract there," Mr. Barrette said.
Mr. Tilton pointed out that the town was planning to extend the term of the current sticker by six months, until the end of next June, to make amends for the new bag costs.
In the end, when a vote was called, Mr. Vitacco remained the only dissenter.
Selectmen plan to hold a public hearing sometime in May to set the actual fees associated with the new program.
But according to draft figures released last night, the cost of the annual transfer station sticker will be $55 with bags costing $1.25 for five 8-gallon bags, $3 for five 15-gallon bags, and $6 for five 30-gallon bags. These bags will be available at local markets and even some liquor stores and gas stations.
Mr. Tilton estimated the during the first year of the program, consider sticker and bag costs, the new program will cost a household of one person $81; for a family of five, the cost will be closer to $200.
His plan is to step-up costs to residents over five years with the hope of making the program, eventually, a fully self-funded program. Currently, a big chunk of the town's trash disposal costs are paid out of the town budget.
At the end of five years, according to figures presented last night, the cost of the program will grow to $159 a year for one person and $643 for a family of five.
Mr. Tilton said that more a person recycles, the less the program will cost them.
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