Monday, October 02, 2006

Trash Stickers, Again

At the last Selectmen’s meeting Chair Jimmy Mullen announced his wish to reduce the trash sticker fee from $3 to $2. The reason for doing so? Lots of people really hate the fee, according to Mr. Mullen. There was no discussion of how the $300,000-$400,000 of revenue would be replaced, or alternatively what cuts in Town services would be implemented if the fee is reduced. Indeed, no vote was taken on the matter. The Town Administrator was asked to prepare a report on the trash sticker program for discussion at the next meeting.

I think a little background is in order.

Municipalities nationwide face a growing problem with the disposal of Municipal Solid Waste. According to the EPA there were 7683 Municipal Solid Waste landfills in 1986. By 2001 there were only 1858. Massachusetts had hundreds of such landfills over 25 years ago. Today there are 17. As municipal landfills have been closed, capacity needs have been met by the creation of huge, regional landfills. States like Massachusetts and New York have only 5-10 years capacity remaining, at which point all or a substantial part of our solid waste will need to be transported out of state.

There is a world of difference between having your trash collected and taken to your community dump or landfill and having it picked up, transported long distances and then paying the landfill operator for the privilege of putting it in a hole in the ground. As regionalization creates longer and longer distances between communities and disposal sites, and as the supply of landfills struggles to handle increasing amounts of solid waste, costs escalate. The further you ship waste, the transport costs increase. A decreasing supply of landfills within easy reach means increased tipping fees.

Like many other communities Milton had to deal with this issue in 1999. State regulations mandated the closing and capping of our landfill. We were faced with the need to transport our trash and pay tipping fees for its disposal. This new cost amounted to approximately $750,000 in the first year, and we were faced with the problem of how to fund this new expense. The Board of Selectmen offered residents a choice between an override or a “Pay as you throw” trash sticker program to pay for some of these new costs. The residents opted for a trash sticker program.

The trash stickers were originally priced at $1.50 each, and then were raised to $2.00. These prices never covered the entire cost of the program, but probably paid for 67%-75% of it. A year ago this Spring the Selectmen raised the price to $3.00, something the Warrant Committee had been urging for two years as it dealt with budget shortfalls. In making that recommendation the Warrant Committee looked at how other communities were handling their trash costs. Then member Brian Cherry conducted a survey, which I have updated as of October 2, 2006.

The survey of 23 South Shore communities found that 10 have a transfer station program (Braintree, Cohasset, Duxbury, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Hull, Kingston, Plymouth, and Scituate). The remaining 13 communties have curb side pickup programs – 5 incorporate the cost into the general budget and 8 charge a fee.

Community--------------March 2004-----------------October 2006

Halifax-------------------$1 sm/$1.50 lg.------------$1.80 sm/$2.50/lg.









As you can see, the majority of surveyed towns have had to institute fees to meet news costs of solid waste disposal, and of 9 communites, our $3 per week sticker price is the third lowest.

Of course no one likes to pay taxes or trash fees. That is hardly a revelation. The fact remains that residents chose to pay for this program with fees rather than through property taxes. If the fee doesn’t at least keep up with increases in the cost of trash disposal, we’ll be diverting ever increasing amounts of money from our general revenue stream that would otherwise pay for other vital town services.

Reducing this fee now would be fiscally irresponsible. Do we have a surplus that no one is aware of? Have we ever been in a situation other than one in which we fight to maintain the level of services we have now? The Selectmen can make the politically attractive decision to reduce fees, but the Warrant Committee and the Town Meeting will have to cut budgets somewhere to make up the difference. And residents will experience the cuts in service. Perhaps residents wouldn’t be so upset if someone took the time to explain to them the growing cost of getting rid of our trash, or let them know whether they were going to have to get along with fewer Police, Firefighters or Teachers as a result of a hasty, ill-advised action.


Anonymous Carolyn Newman said...

I think it is also prudent to mention that trash fees are good for the planet. The more it costs to dispose of solid waste, the higher the incentive to recycle. As a family of four, we recycle so much that we only need to put out one trash bin every other week. I think a lot of people could reduce their trash fees if they look more critically at what they are throwing in the trash, rather than the recycling bin.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Hi Carolyn!

Not to mention the more you recycle the less we have to put into landfills and pay for, and, some of the things you recycle, such as newsprint, we actually have been getting paid for for a few years now.

8:41 PM  

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