Published DateLACONIA — Among the options for restructuring the curbside collection of solid waste being considered by the City Council, a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program, the most controversial of the three, appears to be gathering support as councilors prepare to address the issue when they meet on Monday.
Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who explored several alternatives to PAYT, and Matt Lahey (Ward 2) both favor PAYT over the other options presented to the council this week. Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who last month remarked he was on the brink of offering a motion to adopt PAYT, said yesterday that he intended to make his decision after considering all the options while acknowledging, "if you want the biggest bang for your buck, it's PAYT."
Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4), Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) and Ava Doyle (Ward 1) oppose PAYT, chiefly because it shifts the cost of collecting trash to property owners by requiring them to buy marked bags, effectively introducing a user fee. Baer said "I'm not going to kick and scream if PAYT passes, but it's not my first choice." She said that 99-percent of the calls and e-mails she receives from constituents are against PAYT. "I'm thinking of the reaction of the people," she said.
Likewise Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said "my constituents don't want PAYT and I vote for my constituents." He said that he would like to delay a decision for another two weeks. "I think we've got to give taxpayers time to chew on it."
Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) conceded that "at some point we may have to go to PAYT, but I want to exhaust all the alternatives before get there."
A stalemated council would throw the deciding vote to Mayor Mike Seymour, who yesterday expressed his unqualified support for PAYT. "PAYT is our best option," he said. "It would enable us to get where we need to be as quickly as possible." He said that "if the council were evenly split, I would vote for PAYT."
Earlier this year councilors agreed to take steps to increase the volume of recyclables in order to reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste in the 2013-1014 city budget. Lipman, who chairs the Finance Committee, explained yesterday that expenses beyond the control of the council are rising faster than revenues from sources other than property taxes, which last year fell nine-percent. In order to continue to budget within the limits of the tax cap, he said that operating expenses must be reduced. "Otherwise," Lipman said, "rising costs will crowd out expenditures for essential services and things like road repairs, police and fire protection will be threatened."
Among all the options, PAYT ensures the greatest increase in recycling and offers the greatest cost savings. PAYT encourages recycling by requiring residents to place the trash and garbage they do not recycle in a special-marked plastic bag purchased at local retail outlets. The trash, together with recyclable materials, is collected at the curbside once a week. Trash not contained in a marked bag is left at the curb. PAYT shifts the cost of handling solid waste from property taxpayers to households, businesses and other organizations through the purchase of marked bags.
PAYT is projected to save $286,000 by diverting recyclables from the solid waste stream and spare $156,000 in funding from property taxes.
Some 3,780 tons of trash would remain to be collected at the curb at a cost of $567,000. The tonnage would require the sale of some 378,000 marked bags. Priced at $1.75 apiece, the sale of bags would generate $661,500 in revenue, enough to defray the cost of purchasing the bags and collecting, transporting and disposing of all the remaining trash. Over ten years the program would spare $1.7-million in property taxes.
"Other communities have have adopted PAYT and proven its success," said Seymour. "It is something that we know will work." He questioned the alternatives as "stop gaps that will ultimately lead us to PAYT and getting there in increments doesn't make sense."
Without openly endorsing PAYT, Hamel agreed. "Whatever we pick is going to be there for a while. You don't want to keep messing with the taxpayers."
"PAYT is a good long-run solution," echoed Lipman. "We can't keep tackling this over and over."
Supporters of PAYT said that in the first year the savings realized by the program would be returned to taxpayers by reducing the budget by an equal amount. Moreover, the one-time savings would be incorporated into future budgets by reducing the baseline amount to be raised by property taxes, from which annual increases — limited by the tax cap — are calculated.
The alternative to PAYT, preferred by Doyle, Bolduc and Baer, is a mandatory program, which aims to increase recycling by refusing to collect trash at the curb unless it is accompanied by a recycling container. No particular amount of recyclables would be required to quality for trash collection. But, this system would be supplemented by limiting the number of 64-gallon trash containers to one at single-family family homes and seven at multi-family buildings and commercial properties.
However, currently multi-family and commercial buildings are permitted seven 30-gallon containers amounting to 210 gallons of trash. If these buildings were allowed seven 64-gallon containers, holding 448 gallons of trash, the amount of trash would not be limited but more than doubled, providing not an incentive but a disincentive to recycle.
Mandatory recycling is projected to increase the amount of recyclables to 25-percent of the waste stream, reducing the cost of handling trash by $247,000 and funding from property taxes by $117,000. During the next ten years the program would reduce property taxes by $1.3-million.