Published DateLACONIA — The City Council last night chose to postpone its decision on restructuring the curbside collection of recyclables and trash until its first regularly scheduled meeting in April and in the meantime invite residents to express their offer their views on the choice between so-called "mandatory" recycling or a "Pay-As-You-Throw" program.
During the discussion, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) remarked that the six councilors appeared evenly divided between the two options, placing Mayor Mike Seymour in the position of casting the deciding vote. Councilors Matt Lahey (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) all voiced a preference for PAYT while Baer, along with Ava Doyle (Ward 1) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) opted for a mandatory program.
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 10 years the program would spare $1.7-million in property taxes.
The mandatory program 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 trash containers to one at single-family family homes and seven at multi-family buildings and commercial properties.
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.
All councilors agreed that that in the first year all savings 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.
Of the half-dozen residents who spoke to council on the subject Monday night, only two favored PAYT. Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, said that part from increasing recycling, PAYT was equitable because it required all residents to contribute to the cost of disposing of solid waste, including renters who pay no property taxes. He pointed out that residents of South Down Shores pay a significant share of property taxes, but go without trash collection.
Fred Clausen, the owner and operator of Proctor's Lakehouse Cottages at The Weirs who regularly recycles, called PAYT as "another tax," Instead, he supported a mandatory program accompanied by an aggressive education effort aimed at business owners and residents who do not recycle.
Another innkeeper from The Weirs, Joe Driscoll of Cozy Inn and Cottages and Lakeview House and Cottages, who also recycles, said that PAYT "comes down on everyone who is complying and sure looks like a backdoor tax." Rejecting claims that increased recycling would reduce operating expenses, the said that "the real savings are elsewhere in the budget" and predicted that down the road the cost of collecting recyclables would exceed the cost of disposing of trash.
Jose Dematos of Channel Cottages at The Weirs reminded the councilors that Laconia is "a poor city with high taxes." As "just another tax," he warned that PAYT would lead to illegal dumping. To cut cut costs, he suggested requiring city employees to pay a greater share of the cost of their health insurance, furloughing city workers and reducing the hours at City Hall.
Lipman began by noting that the state has downshifted costs to municipalities and insisted "we have to find efficiencies. PAYT was not my first option," he continued, "but voluntary recycling is still far short. We are asking people to participate in their government."
"I hate to put this on people's shoulders," said Doyle, advocating for a mandatory program. "The people can be faulted if it doesn't work and congratulated if it does," she said.
Pointing to the cost savings, Hamel said "I don't know of any business that would take $150,000 out of its pocket, put out on the dock and set fire to it," adding "that is just what we're doing with our trash."
Lipman repeated that if the cost of collecting, hauling and disposing of trash is not reduced it will continue to rise and "crowd out spending for other things. We have a role in our form of government," he reminded his colleagues, "to lead."