Published DateLACONIA — For at least six months beginning on July 1 trash will not be collected at the curbside unless it is accompanied by recyclables as Mayor Mike Seymour broke the stalemate of a split City Council at a special meeting last night.
Following an hour of public comment and almost another of debate among the six councilors, the City Council found itself evenly divided between a "pay-as-you-throw" program and a so-called mandatory recycling program, leaving the decided vote with Seymour.
Earlier in the month, the mayor indicated that he would break an expected tie by voting for PAYT, but then began to waver in the face of popular opposition to the program before apparently reverting to his original position on the eve of the vote. But instead of calling for a vote on the two options, Seymour invited the council to consider introducing a mandatory recycling program for a trial period.
After a brief discussion, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) offered a motion for a six-month trial period. When the vote was taken the council was deadlocked with the three in favor of PAYT — Councilors Matt Lahey (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel Ward 5) — voting against the motion and Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) and Baer, who all preferred a mandatory program, voting in favor.
Seymour broke the deadlock by voting to introduce mandatory recycling for a six-month trial period.
Of three dozen residents gathered in the Council Chambers, 12 stepped to microphone to offer their opinions. Only two expressed unequivocal support for PAYT while seven spoke equally strongly against it.
"Enough is enough," said John McKenzie who estimated PAYT would cost his family of five between $300 and $600 a year. "I'm against it right off the bat. The cost would hurt our family." Doubting his estimates, Hamel explained that since he was putting one 30-gallon can of trash at the curb, he would only require one 30-gallon bag (at $1.75) a week under a PAYT program.
Marilyn Brown was one of two women who regularly recycle and asked "why should we be penalized?"
Lahey told her she was already being penalized since her property taxes were paying for trash collected from those who do not recycle. "You're doing the right thing and subsidizing the people who aren't," he said.
Former city councilor Dave Gammon questioned claims that PAYT would reduce the amount raised by property taxes. ""I'm totally against this," he declared. "I don't see the savings."
On the other hand, Arelene Barrett endorsed PAYT, reminding the councilors that "it's not just about the tax base. It's about the environment. It's not merely a garbage issue," she said, stressing that recycling was required to protect the natural environment.
"PAYT makes the most sense," said Dick Smith. He said that unless the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of trash was reduced was reduced, residents would be faced with the choice between paying higher property taxes or accepting diminished municipal services.
Lipman opened with a similar argument when the councilors took up the issue, which he said "has been mischaracterized as a choice between mandatory recycling and PAYT. It's really a choice," he continued, "between what services we can provide while complying with the tax cap." He said that this year alone some $1-million in expenses have been transferred from the state to the city and explained that savings and efficiencies must be achieved to budget within the tax cap.
Of the two options for reducing the solid waste budget, Lipman said that PAYT promised the greatest returns. Tacitly conceding the program is not popular, he said that "citizens have a responsibility to contribute to the quality of our community. We're asking the community to help us. We want you to help us help you."
Baer said that she had received 104 calls and e-mails, 84 of them in opposition to PAYT. Likewise, she recalled that at a public forum in 2011, 64-percent of those present opposed PAYT. She said that "one group is talking about money and one group is talking about what people want." She suggested that there are other ways to reduce spending and increases revenues without resorting to PAYT. Baer noted that the responsibility of city councilors is to represent their constituents.
"I listen to the people," echoed Bolduc, who said that nine of 10 people he heard from were against PAYT. Noting that the council deferred its decision to allow for a period of public comment, he said "we asked them to come forward and now we're telling them they did it for nothing."
Hamel, who read many of the same e-mails as Baer, suggested that as many as 70-percent of the comments betrayed a misunderstanding of the PAYT program. "The facts were wrong," he said.
Calling PAYT "a regressive fee," Doyle urged the council to weigh "the human cost." She stressed that the cost of the bags would burden already hard-pressed households.
Hamel pointed out that mandatory recycling would require collecting recyclables every week, which would cost an additional $90,000. In response to a question from Seymour, City Manager Scott Meyers said that since a mandatory program is projected to trim solid waste costs by $117,000 a year, the cost of weekly collection would reduce the net savings to $27,000.
After the vote, Seymour said that the community is on notice that if mandatory recycling fails to produce satisfactory results, PAYT will be introduced next year. "Is the community willing to step up?" he asked.