Published DateLACONIA — The City Council appears bent on incorporating changes to the curbside collection of trash and recyclables in the 2013-2014 municipal budget that takes effect on July 1 in order to reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste. But, a majority, let alone a consensus, has yet to merge on what changes to introduce.
When the council met this week Archie St. Hilaire, the former president of Bestway Disposal Services who joined Casella Waste Systems when it acquired his firm, outlined two options, an automated collection system and a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) called the presentation "a waste of our time" while Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said "I don't see how we're going to get there without doing pay-as-you-throw," adding "I'm almost ready to make a motion." Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) has openly stated her misgivings about PAYT and Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) said "I really don't want to see pay-as-you-throw."
Reticent during much of the discussion, Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) once observed that his daughter lives in Concord, where PAYT was introduced in 2009, and remarked that it seems to work very well.
Although the pressures on the budget have spurred councilors to contemplate overhauling the collection regimen, a majority apparently prefers to pursue relative modest savings. Lipman said that reducing the property taxes required to fund the disposal of solid waste would enable the council to avoid the difficult choices of cutting other programs, services and project in order to budget within the bounds of the tax cap. On the other hand, City Manager Scott Myers said that if it were necessary to introduce PAYT, he would recommend that the savings be eliminated from the solid waste budget, rather than fund other appropriations, in order to offset the cost of shifting solid waste costs to residents.
St. Hilaire told the councilors that recycling is the only way to reduce and control solid waste costs. "Rates are not going down," he said, "so it's got to be recycling."
In 2012, it cost $150.73 to collect, transport and incinerate each ton of trash, or $1,452,046 a year, of which $924,046 is funded by property taxes and the balance by fees collected at the transfer station. On the other hand, recyclables are collected for a flat fee of $10,427, or $125,124 a year, regardless of the tonnage. In 2012, 1,342 tons of recyclables, representing about 11-percent of all solid waste, were removed from the waste stream. Recycling spared $204,310 in collection, transport and disposal costs, which less the cost of collecting recyclables trimmed $79,975 from the solid waste budget.
St. Hilaire stressed that incentives are required to increase the number of households recycling and the volume of recyclable material. Noting that the city collects recyclables every other week, he said that weekly collection alone would have little effect, citing Old Orchard Beach, Maine where recycling inched from 15-percent to 17-percent with weekly collection.
"You need a limiting device," St. Hilaire said, explaining that people are encouraged to recycle by limiting the amount or placing a cost on the trash they put at the curb.
St. Hilaire said that an automated collection system that relied on limiting the amount of trash would increase recycling to between 30-percent and 32-percent of the solid waste stream and reduce disposal costs by about a third.
However, the system would require a significant capital investment. Each of the 5,200 stops where trash is collected would be provided, by either the city or the contractor, with a pair of toters, one of 64 gallons or 90 gallons for trash and another smaller container for recyclables at a cost of about $50 apiece, or $520,000. Trucks fitted with a robotic arm would empty the toters. St. Hilaire said that although the trucks require only one operator and can make a third more stops in day, collection costs would not be reduced because the trucks cost more to purchase and maintain.
Lipman was quick to point out any operational savings would be dwarfed offset by the capital investment in trucks and toters.
"It sounds like you need pay-as-you-throw," St. Hilaire said, noting that the program generally boosts recycling to near 40-percent of the total volume of solid waste. The PAYT program would shift most of the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste from property taxes by requiring residents to place their trash in specially marked bags purchased from local retailers, and applying the proceeds from the sale of the bags to the solid waste budget.
St. Hilaire emphasized that to maximize the recycling rate would have to be collected weekly along with the trash, explaining that because they tend to be bulky people would be more likely to put them in the weekly trash than to store them for two weeks. Weekly collection would raise the annual cost of collecting recyclables by $90,000, from $125,000 to $215,000.
Approximately 50 municipalities in New Hampshire, including the cities of Dover, Lebanon, Somersworth, Claremont and Concord, operate PAYT programs.
Chip Chesley, director of public works in Concord, said that since the program was introduced in July, 2009, the amount of solid waste has shrunk by about 40-percent and the volume of recyclable material has grown at the same pace. "It has reduced our dependency on property taxes," he said. "Tax dollars pay for the curbside collection of recyclables and revenue from the sale of bags pays for solid waste disposal."
According to projections prepared by Ann Saltmarsh of the Department of Public Works (DPW) based on 2012 solid waste volumes, if a PAYT program increased recycling to 40-percent of all solid waste, collection, transportation and disposal costs, including the additional cost of weekly recycling, would be reduced by approximately $253,000, from $1,452,046 to $1,199,018.
Solid waste costs are defrayed by revenue from property taxes and transfer station fees, which consist of a charges of $60 per ton and $60,000 for stickers. Currently property taxes account for $924,046 and fee income for $528,000 of the total of $1,452,046.
On July 1, the transfer station fee is set to increase to $90 per ton, which despite a reduction in the volume of trash with increased recycling, would generate revenue of $579,480.
Meanwhile, with PAYT revenue from fees would be supplemented by proceeds form the sale of trash bags, which would depend on their price. If 40-percent of trash is recycled, about 3,330 tons would be bagged and if each bag held 20 pounds of trash, 333,000 bags would be sold. At $1 per bag, the revenue would be $333,000 and $499,500 at $1.50 a bag.
Taken together, the revenue from fees and sales of $912,480 or $1,078,980 would be applied against the $1,199,018 in reduced collection, transportation and disposal costs. The outstanding balance of $286.538 or $120,038 to be funded by property taxes would be $286,538 with bags at $1 and $120,038 with bags at $1.50, reductions of $637,500 and $804,008 respectively.
The council is also considering a third option, a species of mandatory recycling. With the mandatory program trash would not be collected at the curbside unless recyclable material was placed at the curb at the same address. It is not clear if a minimum amount of recycling would be required to qualify for trash collection. But, as long as trash is collected weekly, recyclables would also have to be collected weekly at the additional cost of $90,000 a year.
The program would require monitoring and enforcement, most likely on the part of both the solid waste contractor and the DPW, at a cost still to be estimated. And no evidence has yet been offered to demonstrate that such a program would increase the recycling rate to 30-percent. With a recycling rate of 30-percent and a $90 per ton fee at the transfer station, a mandatory program would spare about $175,000 in property taxes, with the higher transfer station fee accounting for three-quarters of the savings.