History lesson: how Gilford's trash collection payment system developed to where it is today

GILFORD — From the former gravel pit off Kimball Road through Clinker-Bell on Route 11-B to today's setup at the Laconia Transfer Station, the town's trash collection service has been linked with Laconia since the 1970s.
Department of Public Works Department Director Sheldon Morgan has been with DPW since 1972 and said he remembers Gilford in those days as a very sparsely populated community with mostly farmers. According to N.H. state records, there were 1,271 residents in 1950, 2,043 residents in 1960 and 3,219 residents in 1970.
"People just took care of their own garbage," he said noting that there was very little that was thrown away and almost all of it was natural — like paper, wood and cotton — and most people burned what they had. Now, he said, there is much more waste and much of it is not natural materials.
"We didn't throw away anything back then," he said laughing.
As the community began to grow, he said in 1972, the town began excavating the gravel pit for road building and would fill the newly excavated portion with stumps, dirt and other things.
He said what little household trash there was went to the Laconia incinerator next to the airport. The product of the incinerator were taken to "Clinker-Bell" — a facility off Route 11-B that processed the incombustible residue from the incinerators — known as clinkers.
"I think they had a lot of problems with the clinkers," he said.
He said the garbage world changed in the late 1970s and the early 1980s as all states, including New Hampshire, began complying with the Federal Clear Air Act of 1970 and the Clear Water Act passed in 1972.
As part of the state's response to the new federal regulations, Morgan said Laconia, Gilford and Belmont were grouped together as one "administrative unit." He said he doesn't know why the state did that but said it was shortly after that when the idea of the Concord Regional Solid Waste Resource Recovery Center or Co-op was formulated.
He said regulations came rapidly after that and Gilford began implementing more "environmentally pleasing" methods.
"We struck a deal and got into the co-op," he said.
He said at some point Belmont went its own way — he doesn't know why — and Laconia and Gilford jointly purchased some land on what is now the Lakes Industrial Park on Hounsell Avenue.
When the co-op opened, he said Hounsell Avenue was converted to industrial and commercial use and the Laconia Transfer Station opened on Meredith Center Road. He said Laconia owns the land and Gilford has a partnership whereby about 30 percent of the capital costs are born by the town as well as 28 percent of the operating expenses.
"We have been very lucky," Morgan said noting Gilford has never really had to deal with household waste in town with the exception of its recycling center, which is on the same spot as the old gravel pit.
What is somewhat unique to Gilford, said Morgan, is the town never created a curbside pickup system. "It's always been the responsibility of the residents to take it away," he said.
As it stands now, he explained, there are three components to getting rid of household waste in Gilford — getting it to Laconia, taking it from Laconia to Penacook, and disposing of it at the coop.
He said the approximate cost of the last two are now the responsibility of the town. Morgan said it costs $66.80 per ton to process it in Penacook and the town pays Wheelabrator, which is the company that manages the co-op.
It cost $16.72 per ton to haul the solid waste from Laconia to Penacook and the money is paid to Waste Management, the company that manages the Laconia Transfer Station.
These two are the portions of the process that Gilford taxpayers pay for through the town, said Morgan.
He said Gilford residents have two choices to get the solid waster from their home to Laconia — pay someone to do it, like a trash hauler, or bring it themselves. If they use a hauler, the transport fees from the house to Laconia are privately billed to the resident.
If they take it themselves, he said the preferred method of payment is through $5 coupons that are purchased from Gilford Town Hall. The price is $5 for the first ton (per month) $10 for the second ton and $30 for every ton after that per visit.
Morgan said every vehicle pays at least $5 for every visit and haulers are weighed full and then empty to determine how much household waste there is per load. In his opinion, the transfer station is well-managed and is "harder to get into than Fort Knox."
He said the town of Gilford pays the upfront costs or the second two components and any revenue collected on the part of Gilford's residents through the sale of coupons returns to the town.
Should the Selectboard raise the so-called tipping fees for haulers at the transfer station, as Laconia has, and as it proposed to do at its last meeting, Morgan said the revenue from the hike would return to Gilford, which would lower the amount of taxes that need to be raised for solid waste. He said it's money that won't be assessed to the taxpayers.
It's part of our deal with Laconia," he said. "They'll send us a check for what the get from the Gilford taxpayers."
Right now he said the town subsidizes the disposal of every ton of trash that comes from Gilford, including commercial waste, a feature of Gilford's system that is pretty unique. Morgan said when the system was designed, the town had almost no commercial enterprise.
If the selectmen change the fees structure, he said it would become a user fee as opposed to a tax.
"Either way, someone will pay the bill," he said.
Some taxpayers spoke against the proposal to go to a user-fee based system at a public hearing on May 8. The matter was tabled for further review by the town administrator said Morgan and is likely to be decided Wednesday at the regular selectman's meeting.