Board Leaning Toward Pay-As-You-Throw Trash Option
By: Mary Stanley
Selectmen directed the town’s Solid Waste Advisory Team to begin crunching the numbers for a pay-as-you-throw disposal program.
The committee went before the board last night to discuss five options it had explored for managing the town's trash and for containing future increases in disposing of Sandwich’s waste.
With so-called tipping fees, which is the amount of money paid to SEMASS, a waste to energy company out of Rochester, expected to triple by 2015, selectmen have been grappling with how to respond to that increase.
The five options that the committee considered were: leaving the current system as is; a contracted curbside pickup program for both trash and recyclables; a curbside pick up program for recyclable materials only; the pay-as-you-throw program; and getting out of the trash disposal business altogether, leaving residents to hire their own private trash haulers.
According to waste team member John R. Edmonston, leaving the current system as it is does nothing to encourage recycling and by 2015, costs are going to triple anyway. "Doing nothing could sink us," he said.
While either of the curbside pick up programs would be convenient for residents and encourage recycling, he said both programs would be expensive.
Mr. Edmonston added that if the town did offer curbside pickup to residents, it would have an impact on private haulers.
"They would lose all of their business and we would get all of their trash," he said.
Town Manager George H. Dunham pointed out that when this option was explored six or seven years ago, it was decided then the cost of it would require a Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund.
"I don't think any of the curbside pick up programs are feasible," said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Dana P. Barrette.
Mr. Edmonston said the pay-as-you-throw program is a fair system, where the more a resident recycles and reduces the amount of solid waste being thrown out, the less he would pay.
With this type of system, residents would be required to purchase specially made trash bags to dispose of their household trash. The fee for the trash bags would be set by the board of selectmen. This type of program would encourage residents to minimize their waste and could represent a cost savings for both taxpayers and the town, since the less solid waste that is sent to SEMASS, the less the town must pay in tipping fees. Although it is different from the system that town currently has in place, it is in line with the town’s Local Comprehensive Plan. He said with 140 municipalities in the state using such a system, it is growing in popularity.
Selectman James W. Pierce pointed out that as the system currently exists, residents not only pay $110 for a transfer station sticker, but a portion of their property taxes is being used to subsidize the transfer station.
Mr. Dunham clarified that it costs approximately $1.5 million to run the transfer station. Sticker fees and money generated from recyclables accounts for $750,000 and the balance comes out of the town's operational budget.
"We can't afford to subsidize it anymore. If we do nothing differently than we are doing today, our incremental costs between now and 2015 are going to far outpace our revenues," Mr. Barrette said.
He said the only two feasible options for containing solid waste disposal costs was the pay-as-you-throw program or getting out of the solid waste business altogether.
"I don't see the transfer station as a core service," Mr. Barrette said.
Mr. Edmonston pointed out that shutting down the transfer station could increase illegal dumping of trash.
"It's a city without a dump," he said.
He added that having no transfer station would force residents to hire private haulers and those businesses would have free reign on their pricing.
"All bets are off in terms of what private haulers could charge," Mr. Edmonston said.
He said the decision would be a difficult one and it could have political impacts.
"I don't care about political ramifications. I'd rather save the town money than get elected," Mr. Barrette said.
Selectmen directed the team to explore the full costs of the pay-as-you-throw program and how much would need to be charged for the bags and a transfer station sticker for the town to break even or to reduce the amount of money it is currently spending. The committee will also look at the logistics of the program and the best way to administer it.
Mr. Barrette also asked the committee to explore the consequences of getting out of the solid waste business and how much taxpayers might have to pay to hire private haulers.
The committee is tentatively scheduled to be back before the board in six weeks with its findings.
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