City officials fielded suggestions to pick up recycling more often, provide better bags, and offer more education about what may be recycled.
By Amy Calder, Staff Writer
Morning Sentinel news story
WATERVILLE — Most people who spoke Wednesday at a meeting on the city’s pay-as-you-throw trash collection system said they like the program but not certain aspects of it — including that the special trash bags are odd-shaped and tear easily, that recyclables are not picked up often enough and more education is needed to teach people what to recycle and not recycle.
About 80 people turned out in The Forum Room in The Center downtown for the informational meeting hosted by Mayor Nick Isgro and City Manager Michael Roy.
The crowd included city councilors, landlords, residents, public works Director Mark Turner, city finance Director Chuck Calkins and Tax Collector Linda Cote.
The meeting was held to inform residents about the nuts and bolts of pay-as-you-throw and what will happen to city finances if voters at a referendum June 9 decide to keep or repeal the program.
Roy said the city’s contract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington, which burns the city’s waste, expires in 2018, at which time, the city’s cost for trash disposal is expected to go from $60 per ton to $110 or $120 per ton. The tonnage the city sends to PERC is expected to decrease from 4,400 tons to 2,000 tons a year by the end of the city’s fiscal year — the end of June, he said. While the city expected the program to decrease tonnage by 40 percent, it actually is reducing it by 55 percent, according to Roy.
The goal of pay-as-you-throw was to have residents pay for what they throw away, he said. The estimated savings to the city with pay-as-you-throw, taking into account revenue from special purple bags that people pay for their trash, reduction of tonnage and recycling, is $432,675, Roy said.
“Most people don’t realize it, but after public works, police and fire, trash disposal is the fourth biggest cost in our city budget,” he said, adding that that does not include school costs and debt service.
Resident Heather Merrow, co-director of the South End Neighborhood Association, asked if there’s any way recycling can be picked up curbside every week, rather than the current first and third full week of the month. Some months are five weeks, and recycling must be kept housed at people’s homes for long periods of time, she said.
“People in small houses and apartments, there’s no place to store this stuff,” Merrow said. “Sometimes 20, 21 days we’re waiting.”
Roy said officials wanted Sullivan’s Disposal, the Thorndike company that picks up the recycling, to collect it every other week, but it could not do so with the 17 other towns the company serves. The city has a 3-year contract with Sullivan’s.
“The city could go around and pick up on that odd week, but then Sullivan’s will come the next week,” he said.
Merrow asked if another hauler could take the recyclables on the odd weeks. Isgro reminded those present that the municipal budget is their budget and they may talk to city councilors about what they want. Anything is possible, but people just need to realize that there is a cost associated with such changes, he said.
Resident Steve Soule, the director of the South End Teen Center, thanked councilors for approving pay-as-you-throw as part of the $37.2 million 2014-15 budget.
“I think it was a smart move,” Soule said.
He wondered aloud how people who oppose the program would make up the $432,000 if voters repeal it.
Isgro said he thought there would have to be “some kind of tax increase.”
“I think the council is a very thoughtful group, and they’re going to be looking at the budget line by line,” he said.
Debbie Berthiaume of Boutelle Avenue said when pay-as-you-throw was introduced, she thought it was being forced on residents, but she is on board with the system now. However, she also noted that storing recycling is a problem when it is not picked up for an extended period of time. She found out that people can take recycling to Shredding on Site on Armory Road in the off weeks, but many people work Monday through Friday, when that location accepts recycling, she said.
Isgro said he promised the city would look into having another hauler take recyclables when Sullivan’s can not do it.
Roy agreed, saying the recycling issue has probably been the biggest complaint he has heard regarding pay-as-you-throw.
“We are going to continue to look at it, as Nick said,” he said.
Resident Cindy Jacobs said she thought many people opposed to pay-as-you-throw do not know what they can and can not recycle.
“I agree,” Isgro said. “We need to do a better job at marketing these materials and get it out to people.”
Jibryne Karter III asked if the city could continue the recycling program if voters repeal pay-as-you-throw.
Isgro said that is up to the people to decide. The reality is, the city pays nearly $80,000 for recycling pickup. Isgro said he thinks that, over time, people would continue to recycle a little bit, but then trash would creep into the recycling bins.
“It’s just human nature that it’s easier to just throw away the trash,” he said.
Merrow’s husband, Ralph, said disposing of bulky waste is costly, and the city had a pickup day for bulky waste in the past, but stopped doing it. Roy said a business on Airport Road takes bulky waste for a fee.
Isgro said he was not opposed to having a bulky waste pickup day, but reiterated that there would be a cost for that.
Philip Gonyar, former chairman of the Board of Education, said he is concerned about how to dispose of items too large for a trash bag.
“I have a snow shovel that’s ready to go, and I’m going to have to go Airport Road and pay $12 to dispose of a $7.99 shovel?” he asked.
Isgro said the city should try to estimate a cost for bulky waste pickup.
“We can look into that,” he said.
Planning Board member Alicia Barnes said there are creative ways to dispose of bulky waste. Kennebec Valley United Way does an annual e-waste pickup of televisions, electronics and other items, and people make a donation to pay for it, she said.
Roy said he thought people should pay for their own bulky waste disposal.
Debbie Roberge said she sees a lot of people putting trash out on Saturday and Sunday, when pickup is Monday, and animals get to it and it is thrown all over the place.
“I pick up a lot of it on my lawn,” she said.
Like Jacobs, she said people need to be more educated about pay-as-you-throw.
“I love this program and I hope it continues,” she said.
Jan King said she sometimes goes for a couple of weeks using a 15-gallon trash bag and she thought it would get smelly in the summer. She recommended adding different sized bags to enhance the program, which currently also has 30-gallon bags. She also said the current bags tear easily.
“Can you make them a little stronger?” she asked.
Isgro agreed with King, saying the bags are very awkward-shaped and difficult to place in a trash can.
“I don’t like the bags, myself,” he said.
Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said absentee landlords allow trash to be littered all over their properties, which takes away a quality of life for people who own and take pride in their homes.
Isgro said that is a serious problem and the city needs to enforce ordinances and make those landlords accountable.
Roy said he is meeting with City Solicitor William Lee and Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins next week to discuss just that issue.
Meanwhile, resident Nick Champagne said he has been against pay-as-you-throw since the beginning. He has never purchased a purple bag and hires a private hauler to collect his trash. He said he pays $1,800 to the city in taxes and he figures if he bought special pay-as-you-throw bags, he’d spend about $200 a year.
As it is, he pays a private hauler $20 a month, which comes to $240 a year, and he buys whatever bags he wants to buy, he said.
He said the town of Fairfield has a pretty good system where private haulers pick up trash.
“What is the city’s position on cutting trash collection completely out of the budget?” he asked, adding that the city could do that and still keep the recycling program.
Stu Silverstein said having huge trucks roaming the city competing with each other for trash collection is a “terrible idea,” but Isgro said he is not totally opposed to cutting trash out of the budget.
“For me to support anything, I need to know that it’s something that the majority of people in Waterville want,” he said.
Isgro recommended people attend council budget workshops. The next workshop, at which trash will be discussed, is 6 p.m. April 28, Roy said. The meeting is in the council chambers at The Center.
Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, urged people who see illegal dumping in the city to report it.
“We can’t do it alone,” she said of enforcement efforts. “Feel empowered to call the police, code enforcement, call the city.”
Isgro said he wants to hold another pay-as-you-throw information meeting next month.
“We need to keep this discussing going. We need to keep it public,” he said. “This really is your city and the decisions that are made by your elected officials have a huge impact on you, but also, you’re going to have an impact on ‘you’ in June.”