Debating the price of trash disposal

Selectman George McNaughton (left) expresses his concerns about switching the transfer station price for garbage from a weight-based rate to by-volume, as Selectman Peter MacGillivray (center) and Chairman Kristi Morris (right) listen.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The town’s amended proposal to change the transfer station fee system for trash disposal launched a two-hour deliberation at this week’s selectboard meeting, ending with an additional amendment by the selectboard which might alter the town’s original revenue purpose.

On Monday, Town Manager Tom Yennerell presented a revised transfer station fee proposal for board approval. The new proposal still included the $25 vehicle sticker fee and replaced the weight-based rate for disposed garbage with a volume-based system. However, the new proposal replaced the previous four-punch card, which charged customers one punch per every 30-gallon bag or equivalent, with an eight-punch card that charged customers one punch per every 15-gallon kitchen bag or equivalent.

The presence of “or equivalent” becomes an important piece to the discussion that followed, as its absence from the selectboard’s amended version may significantly alter the station’s revenue target.

The board’s amendment

The town originally proposed these transfer station price increases to offset a $100,000 operating deficit at the transfer station as a result of plummeting market prices for recyclable materials, whose values have dropped as much as 125% since 2017.

To avoid a 2%-increase to the town tax rate, officials proposed offsetting the deficit by increasing station fees, which is projected to add at least $60,000 in revenues from vehicle stickers and $6,700 by switching to a volume-based price for garbage disposal.

Yennerell and Public Works Director Jeff Strong also said that switching to a volume rate would reduce station traffic and improve overall station efficiency, while pointing out that nearly every town in Springfield’s waste management district utilizes a volume-based system.

Some selectmen, however, objected to a perceived inequity in the town’s plan to charge by volume, with selectmen George McNaughton and Michael Martin voicing the strongest criticism.

“[We need something] more equitable to those who generate smaller amounts of trash,” said Martin on Monday. “Accommodating those who are composting, recycling, reducing the stream to the point that they have smaller containers.”

Martin and McNaughton said that the town’s plan — which would charge one punch, worth $1.88, for a 15-gallon bag of trash and two punches, worth $3.75, for a 30-gallon amount — was potentially unfair because not all bags contain the same weight in trash. According to Martin, a person would pay more than before if their bag contained lightweight, bulky materials, whereas others may “gain on the system” by stuffing that same-sized trash bag with weightier garbage.

Martin then proposed an amendment that appeared to catch many officials, including Yennerell and Strong, by surprise.

Martin motioned to amend the town’s proposal by switching from an eight-punch card to a 12-punch card, with a price system that made it more advantageous to dispose trash in smaller-sized bags.

Under the town’s proposal, each volume equivalent to a 15-gallon bag would cost $1.88 to dispose. This allowed residents the choice between disposing larger 30-gallon bags or smaller ones, though the rate would remain fixed regardless of the type of bag.

Martin’s motion, which the board approved by a vote of 4-to-1, reduced the cost solely for 15-gallon bags.

Under the board’s approved system, a customer disposing a 13-15 gallon bag of trash will only pay $1.25, or one punch on a 12-punch card. Two 15-gallon bags will cost two punches, or $2.50.

However, a customer who disposes that same volume of trash in a 30-gallon bag will pay three punches, or $3.75.

In other words, two customers could pay two different prices under the new system for the exact same volume of trash, depending on whether one puts the trash into two bags or one.

Yennerell believes that residents will likely protest the discrepancy, forcing the town to reduce the rate for all bags as the town originally planned, or simply not use 30-gallon bags. In either scenario the board’s approved fees reduce the garbage disposal rate from $1.88 per 15-gallon volume to $1.25.

Yennerell said that he has not figured out the difference in projected revenue yet, nor whether the town will miss its revenue target, but in six months the town and board will review the numbers and can decide to adjust the fees then.

“We’ll just have to see how the revenues compare in six months if we’ll be on track,” Yennerell said.

The new station fees will go into effect on Sept. 4. The station will continue accepting tickets from customers until they run out.

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