Let’s not kid ourselves: few if any Mashpee residents are going to look at the prospect of paying $50 more a year to drop their trash at the town transfer station with gladness in their hearts.
But let’s also not kid ourselves: having all of the town’s taxpayers subsidize an optional service provided by the town isn’t fair.
That’s even before you get to the arguments that residents of Mashpee, not to mention residents of the United States, should understand the cost, both financial and environmental, of properly disposing of the waste that they generate.
At present, property owners in Mashpee cover about 6 percent, or $57,000, of the cost of operating the transfer station. Users pay for the rest.
But rising costs in the wholesale trash market now are confronting the town.
Catherine Laurent, director of the Mashpee Department of Public Works, said the recent renegotiations with New Bedford Waste Services, the company that the town contracts with for solid waste removal, pushed the town’s costs higher.
The company owner told the selectmen last month that declining landfill capacity throughout Massachusetts is increasing disposal costs.
To continue to use the company’s service, the selectmen approved increasing the rate for solid waste hauling paid to the company from $59.23 per ton last year to $93.75 through the end of 2020.
That represents a 58 percent increase that Ms. Laurent said will add another $120,000 to the cost of operating the station.
To keep sticker permits at their current levels—the annual trash sticker at $150, the annual recycling-only sticker at $30 and the single-trip permit at $15—will require the annual taxpayer subsidy to increase to $227,000.
That would push the subsidy percentage to 22 percent, up from 6 percent—and, as Andrew R. Gottlieb reminded his fellow selectmen, the board has pursued a policy to “eliminate the subsidy over time, so that the stickers reflect the cost of operating the transfer station.”
“I just don’t see the logic of imposing that cost on the tax rate and making people who pay for private trash hauling also pay for my trash,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
Mashpee could eliminate the subsidy this year. The town could do so by increasing the cost of the annual trash sticker by $50 to $200, nudging the cost of the recycling-only sticker by $5 to $35, and raising the single-trip permit by $5 to $20.
Mr. Gottlieb, who is chairman of the board, made a further, deeper argument.
“We need to get real about pricing and what it costs to dispose of trash and not hide it from people,” he said.
Along those lines, if Mashpee residents want to pay less for waste disposal—or at least hold those costs down—they should give “pay as you throw” another look.
Under the town’s current system, Mr. Gottlieb points out, users of the transfer station have no incentive to recycle.
But recycling more translates into throwing out less trash. And “pay as you throw” means that those who throw out less trash pay less—giving them an economic reason to pull out recyclables and dispose of them separately.
Ms. Laurent, meanwhile, anticipates that the cost of disposing of trash in the wholesale market will continue to rise in the future.
For now, the selectmen have held off on a decision about whether the town should increase the sticker fees.
But Mashpee has the opportunity here to start taking proactive steps to confront and hold down the rising cost of waste disposal.
Eliminating the property tax subsidy will be more fair to the town’s taxpayers. Eliminating a “one-size-fits-all” method of charging for trash disposal will be more fair to individual residents—and to the environment as a whole.