Emotions were running high on Wednesday night as more than 50 residents showed up for a meeting to discuss the town’s soon-to-be-implemented pay-as-you throw trash program at the transfer station.
That program, which requires residents to dispose of their trash in specially designated town bags is set to begin on July 1.
From calling the program a hidden tax to calling the board of selectmen “a dictatorship” for implementing the program without hearing from the people, residents wasted no time in voicing their opposition to the new trash disposal program.
The intention of the program is to encourage residents to recycle more of their trash, which will ultimately result in less solid waste going to the transfer station. The less trash that goes into the transfer station, the less the town has to pay to SEMASS, a waste-to-energy plant based in Rochester, where all of the town’s trash is taken. With the contract with that company set to expire in 2015 and the cost for disposing of the town’s solid waste expected to triple, the town has been looking at options to reduce the expense of this service.
According to Director of the Department of Public Works Paul S. Tilton, under the pay-as-you throw program, the less trash a resident throws out, the fewer bags they will need to purchase and the less money the resident will spend.
“If the household of five increases their recycling to 65 percent, then they will spend less than they are spending now,” Mr. Tilton said.
Holding down trash disposal costs now will only pay off later, Mr. Tilton said, when the fees triple in 2015.
He said the pay-as-you-throw program is a fair and equitable deal, with residents who throw out more trash paying more for that service and those who throw out less trash paying less.
“It is a true user fee,” he said.
But residents were not buying into the program or the philosophy of paying for the transfer station operations through user fees.
“This has all been signed, sealed and delivered. It is being imposed upon us. The costs of the bags are going to go up every year. The fees are going to up. You don’t pay to use the schools. You don’t pay to use the library. You shouldn’t pay to use the dump. These are things that should be included in the taxes,” said Richard V. Riley of Arnold Road.
Still, some residents were a bit more open to changing behavior now to avoid increased costs later.
“People don’t like change. But we are at a crossroads. What is the best way to move into the future and move forward? We have to change our behavior and not be at the mercy of 2015. By the time that contract runs out, you won’t have any control. We are taking our trash into our own hands. This is the best, and most affordable, plan in looking to the future,” said Joanne O’Keefe of Phillips Road.
Still others questioned why there were not more meetings about this program and opportunities for the public to weigh in.
“I think we have been railroaded. A little group of selectmen is deciding this for us. It’s like a little dictatorship. I pay 19 cents a bag for the bags I buy at the grocery store and now you are going to charge me $1.20 per bag?” questioned Nancy Mann of Overlook Drive.
Elizabeth J. Friend of Main Street advocated for the program.
“We voted for the selectmen. They do not sit around and think of bad things to do. We’ll try something. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll try something different. We’ve got to save something for our grandchildren. We have to start somewhere,” Ms. Friend said.
One resident questioned why the town opted for bags instead of stickers that can be affixed to standard trash bags, as some towns do. She said that way, residents could continue to purchase brand-name bags, using coupons, and then attach the stickers that they would purchase from the town to their trash bags.
Mr. Tilton said that option was explored but comments from other DPW directors indicated that the stickers do not stay affixed to the bags and residents often find ways to make up counterfeit stickers to avoid the cost.
Still some residents questioned how much money the town would make from the sale of the bags and how that money would be spent.
Mr. Tilton explained that the money collected from the sale of the bags would be put into a special enterprise fund, as voted on at Town Meeting. The money in that fund can only be used for the purposes of running the program or to pay for operations at the transfer station.
He said it is likely that, if residents were able to increase their recycling, the town could see a cost savings of $100,000 the first year and $200,000 by 2015. He said that is money that could be used to offset expenses at the transfer station or to improve services there.
A few residents pointed out to Mr. Tilton that increasing recycling is going to create traffic congestion near the recycling bins at the station.
Mr. Tilton said he shared that concern and that if it appeared to become too congested, he would reevaluate the traffic flow patterns there.
Pamela J. McDermott of Mill Road expressed concern about a possible increase in illegal dumping once the program gets under way.
“I live on Mill Road, and that is a huge dumping area. I would like to know what you plan to do,” she said.
Mr. Tilton said when illegally dumped trash is found, DPW workers go through the trash to find the name and address of the trash owner.
“If it shows that the pay-as-you-throw program is resulting in an increase in illegal dumping, we will take measures,” Mr. Tilton said.
After a few residents asked why the selectmen were not present at the meeting, Selectmen Chairman Frank Pannorfi stood up and spoke to the crowd. He explained that he was part of the solid waste advisory team who analyzed the town’s options for solid waste disposal.
“This is an attempt to get ahead of things, so that you folks don’t come back and say, ‘Why didn’t you do something three years ago?’ We’re trying to control your taxes,” he said.