Trash talk stirs Washburn concern
at public meeting
By Kathy McCarty
WASHBURN — A gathering at Washburn’s elementary school Jan. 6 that was designed to provide answers about the proposed pay-as-you-throw program the city of Presque Isle has been working on and how it will affect Washburn, Wade and Perham residents and businesses that use the Presque Isle landfill, left participants and town officials pondering even more questions, including what their next step will be in the process.
Presque Isle’s City Manager Jim Bennett and Solid Waste Director Dana Fowler were on hand Thursday, providing a brief presentation to approximately 200 participants on the program and explaining how it will be put into play in Presque Isle.
“Collectively, we all own the landfill,” Bennett told those in attendance. “Taxes subsidize the cost of it. There are those in our communities who generate a lot of trash but pay no taxes (in reference to non-profit organizations and businesses who’ve paid little or nothing toward trash disposal). We have three non-profits that generate a lot of trash, including two colleges and the hospital.”
Bennett said Presque Isle’s City Council has been working for months to come up with a plan that more equally divides the burden of paying for the landfill amongst taxpayers, both residents and businesses. Since businesses and non-profits generate more trash, on average, than residents, Bennett and the Council decided an increase in the tipping fee from $32.50 per ton to $90 would partially solve the discrepancy. Using the PAYT program and encouraging recycling, Bennett told the audience, was another way to ensure those using the landfill paid according to their usage. Bennett said the plan could be put into effect without raising the mil rate.
“Presque Isle’s opted to go for a process to encourage more recycling and pay per use,” said Bennett, noting that other communities using the facility must make their own decisions. “It’s up to each one of the participating communities to decide which way to go.”
Fowler noted that around 2001 Presque Isle officials entered an agreement to operate a landfill with six other communities (Mapleton, Chapman, Castle Hill, Perham, Wade and Washburn) and that the agreement was renewed in 2008.
“We’re all in this together,” said Fowler, who went on to explain how Presque Isle residents will pay per bag, with the city picking up the tab for the haulers.
Many questions were asked by the audience on how much bags would cost, their sizes and where they could be purchased. Bennett said currently only Graves Shop N Save in Presque Isle had agreed to sell the bags, but that any store or even the town offices could sell them, if that’s what they wished to do.
An audience member questioned where the funds from recycled products went and, if Washburn increased its recyclables, whether those funds would be used to lower Washburn’s cost for using the landfill.
“The money generated would be used by the Solid Waste Department to cover expenses,” said Bennett, noting the funds would not be directly credited to the town but rather help cover costs and, indirectly, reduce costs in the long run for participating communities.
Bennett said the cost of the landfill has been divided between the communities using it, based on the amount of trash generated for each annually.
“Presque Isle generates just over 80 percent; Castle Hill 1.1 percent; Chapman, 1.9; Mapleton 7.4; Perham, 1.4; Wade about half a percent; and Washburn, just over 7.1 percent. What is thrown away per town this year determines tonnage for the following year,” said Bennett, noting that if Presque Isle residents recycle more, the burden of paying for the landfill could shift to other communities. “If Presque Isle users throw less in the landfill, that will change the figures and other communities and therefore the burden of paying for the landfill will shift accordingly.”
Fowler explained that the landfill, initially designed with a 20-year lifespan, is now looking at a 55-year lifespan. He and Bennett emphasized during the meeting that it was up to all those using the site to make it last as long as possible.
“The more we recycle, the longer the life of the landfill will be and the more money saved,” said Fowler.
Fowler explained that both trash and recyclables would be picked up curbside if the PAYT program is implemented. Audience members asked if more recyclables would be accepted under the new program. Bennett said if a market could be found for an item or if it could be given away, it would be recycled. Everything else would have to go in with regular trash.
Bennett said in Presque Isle, haulers had agreed to what amounted to $13 per household per month and that the two haulers — Star City Sanitation and Gil’s Sanitation — were each taking half of the city’s residences under the proposed plan. He said it was up to Washburn to devise its own plan and name its own hauler or haulers. When asked if the program could be put into play in Washburn without increasing property taxes, Bennett said that was up to town officials.
“That’s up to your community. There are a number of options but that’s up for each town’s officials and residents to decide,” said Bennett.
Washburn officials planned to discuss the matter further during Town Council’s meeting on January 10.