Council approves ‘pay as you throw’ program

14 years ago

Council approves

‘pay as you throw’ program

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — City officials are hopeful a new program approved by City Council at Monday night’s meeting will encourage residents who use the landfill and transfer station to increase their recycling efforts.

Following three hours of discussion on various aspects of the 2011 municipal budget, councilors agreed unanimously to set into motion the new “pay as you throw” trash program which will go into effect by next spring.

Under the plan, the city will contract with the two local haulers — Gil’s Sanitation and Star City Sanitation — for curbside removal of residential garbage, as well as recyclables. The city will be divided up between the two businesses, with each getting half of the residential customers.

City Manager Jim Bennett began discussion by going over the changes he proposed to the way the city handled trash destined for the dump. He said something needed to be done to not only prevent the need for increasing property taxes but also to extend the life of the landfill.

“We’re looking at going to $90 a ton (up from $32.50 per ton in the 2010 budget) for the tipping fee for haulers under the proposed pay-per-bag program,” he said, noting residents would be charged $3.05 per large bag and $1.45 per small bag for each bag put at curbside, with recycled items removed for free.

Under the new program, once it is implemented next spring, bags will be sold at local businesses and must be used by everyone who puts trash at the curb. According to Solid Waste Director Dana Fowler, the system applies to residential but not commercial customers.

Bennett indicated under pay-as-you-throw, property taxes would not go up.

Fowler said city officials hope the new plan will be a money saver in the long run.

“If you can extend the life of the landfill, it could reduce the annual percentage set aside for closure of the landfill,” said Fowler.

Bennett said, on average, 40 percent of the trash going to the landfill, by tonnage, comes from residential customers, with 60 percent from commercial.

Councilor Don Gardner asked how other communities who contract with the city to use the landfill have responded. Fowler said he’d met with representatives from Washburn, Wade and Perham and that “reaction’s been good.”

“They like the idea and said they’re in the same boat as Presque Isle,” said Fowler, adding that he’d talked with Martin Puckett, town manager for Mapleton, Chapman and Castle Hill, with mixed reaction from those communities reported.

Gardner also questioned the proposed closing of the Transfer Station on Saturdays.

“Have any of you spent a Saturday at the Transfer Station recently? I was there the last two weekends and they’ve been right flat out to the wall — very busy,” said Gardner, as he asked about options for keeping the facility open on Saturday and perhaps closing a different day during the week.

Bennett said the recycle center would remain open as it is now, Monday-Friday, but the decision to close on Saturday would save an estimated $10,000 in wages and other costs. He said he would work with Fowler to address Gardner’s concern and see what could be done to keep the facility open at least one Saturday a month, if not more. Councilor Mel Hovey offered one possible option of closing one day during the week and keeping the Saturday hours, thus maintaining the five-day work week and the overall cost of operation.

Councilors also discussed ‘midnight dumping” that may occur during the transition period. Bennett indicated the Council could enact an ordinance to address illegal disposal of garbage on another’s property, bringing control of the matter to the local level. Councilor Emily Smith questioned how effective an ordinance would be if the person dumping illegally can’t be identified, indicating farmers have told her trash dumped on their lands don’t typically have addresses included — giving as examples mattresses and TVs.

Efforts to increase recycling will continue, said Fowler, with the city continuing to distribute free blue recycle bags, with free curbside pickup.

“Haulers will continue to pick up recyclables at curbside, with paper products going in one bag, and plastics and aluminum/metals in a second. You can’t mix papers and plastics,” said Fowler, explaining that the city sells recyclables and clean paper brings a higher price in the market.

The only problem Fowler noted is that glass will not be recycled curbside.

“To recycle glass, people will have to take it to the Transfer Station,” he said.

Smith said she’d recently begun recycling and noticed a big reduction in the amount of garbage she sends to the landfill.

“We need to focus on recycling education efforts as well. I cut my trash in half by recycling. This will force people to do it,” said Smith.

While the process is said to benefit residents, Smith expressed concern over other entities and how the change will impact them.

“The bigger issue here, a lot of businesses in town have said this increase will be really difficult with them. I spoke with the Housing Authority recently. They expect difficulties teaching tenants to recycle more,” said Smith. “The Housing Authority can’t assess increases in rent to tenants without going through a three- or four-month process.”

Bennett told the Council the program is designed to include taxable and tax-exempt properties.

“We have 816 properties identified as commercial in the city. Under this plan, that means about a $518 tax increase to them. The total value of tax-exempt property is over $100 million. The total value of commercial is $250 million,” said Bennett, indicating the program will make those using the landfill pay their fair share.

Explained in a nutshell, the 2010 Solid Waste Department budget totaled just over $895,615 in taxes needed to cover department expenses. Under pay-as-you-throw, the 2011 figure will be $0 in taxes needed, with the difference between the two figures coming from increased tipping fees, purchase of required bags and a change in per-use fees at the landfill rising from $14 to $26. The garbage truck will be eliminated at the Transfer Station, with the center only accepting recyclables effective next March.

Bennett said the plan was worth giving a try and that councilors could always change at a later date, should it be determined the program wasn’t working to the best interest of the communities the landfill serves.

With discussion finished, councilors approved the new plan, scheduled to take effect March 1 for everything but the commercial side, with that portion going into effect April 1.

In other news, Council:

• Unanimously approved the proposed combining of the Recreation Department and Forum management;

• Voted 5-2 to combine code enforcement with the Fire Department and other changes Bennett proposed, with Gardner and Smith opposed;

• Approved organizational changes proposed for the Presque Isle Police Department, which included maintaining staff size while phasing in up to four dispatchers as officers left the department;

• In a motion made by Gardner and seconded by Hovey, councilors voted 5-2 against increasing the city’s contribution to the Veterans’ Cemetery in Caribou from $200 to $500, with several councilors noting since other entities had requested more and weren’t approved they couldn’t justify doing so for the cemetery; and

• Discussed the process to fill the position of city clerk, with the departure this week of Nancy Nichols. Deb Ouellette was selected to serve as interim city clerk, while city officials begin accepting applications.

City Council will next meet on Monday, Dec. 6, at City Hall. Meetings are open to the public and all are encouraged to participate. For more information, contact 760-2720.