Conflicted mayor says pay-as-you-throw right way to go but most Laconians don't want it; vote is Wednesday night

LACONIA — After first indicating that he would casting the deciding vote in favor of introducing a "pay-as-you-throw" program should the six city councilors, as expected, divide evenly over how to restructure the curbside collection of solid waste, Mayor Mike Seymour now finds himself in quandary on the eve of tomorrow's special City Council meeting to settle the issue.
"I believe PAYT is the right way to go," Seymour said yesterday, "but the public outcry (against it) has been overwhelming."
Seymour estimated that approximately 80-percent of some of 300 comments he has received expressed opposition to PAYT.
"I am hesitant to commit," he said, adding that "I would like to see a consensus on the council on such a controversial issue."
Councilors Matt Lahey (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 3) have expressed their support for PAYT and are expected to vote for it while Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) favor the so-called mandatory recycling option.
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. At the time, Lipman, who chairs the Finance Committee, explained 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."
In February, City Manager Scott Myers presented the council with four options, which since have been winnowed to two.
With mandatory recycling trash would not be collected at the curb unless accompanied by a recycling container. No particular amount of recyclables would be required to qualify for trash collection. But, this process would be supplemented by limiting the number of trash containers placed at the curb. Last year, the council adopted an ordinance reducing the number of 30- gallon containers emptied at single family homes and multi-family dwelling from five to two per household and at commercial buildings from 10 to seven.
"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.
A PAYT program is projected to increase the volume of recyclables to at least 30-percent of the solid waste stream. PAYT requires residents to place 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.Trash not contained in a marked bag is left at the curb.
PAYT is projected to save $286,000 by diverting recyclables from the solid waste stream and spare $156,000 in funding from property taxes.
With recyclables representing 30-percent of the solid waste stream, 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 disposing of all the remaining trash.
"I have heard loud and clear what the community has to say," Seymour said. "I am also aware the one option that clearly offers the maximum amount of long-term savings is PAYT."
Seymour said that the two most often heard complaints about PAYT is that it represents "double taxation" and will lead to illegal dumping. He said that because the council has agreed to return to property taxpayers — virtually the entire amount in the first year and in annual increments thereafter — there will be no double taxation.
In the some 75 communities in the state with PAYT, including most recently Concord, Seymour said that there has been no significant increase in illegal dumping. In any event, he said that there are city city ordinances and state laws against illegal dumping and means of enforcing them.
On the other hand, Seymour questioned how mandatory recycling would be enforced. He pointed out that since trash must be accompanied by recyclables, recyclables would have to be collected weekly instead of bi-weekly at an additional cost of $90,000, which would significantly reduce the cost savings.
Likewise, since would be difficult, if not impossible, to specify an amount of recyclables that would qualify for trash collection, Seymour noted that the onus of enforcement would fall on the contractor and doubted that the program would provide a strong incentive to recycle. Noting that the goal is to nearly double recycling, he said "there is no guarantee that a mandatory program would move the needle."
"PAYT is the correct long-term solution," Seymour said. "Of all the options, it is the only one that has been proven to work. It provides the strongest incentive to recycle, it is easy to enforce and of all the options clearly offers the most savings."