2015-02-20 / Front Page

Is PAYT about to be dumped?

Selectmen ponder new trash collection contract
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A new 10-year contract for solid waste and recycling services due to be awarded by the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen could bring the end of the current “pay-as-youthrow” system, which compels residents to buy colored trash bags to dispose of household waste.

And, it seems, the end of that program can’t come soon enough for some people, as Selectmen Christopher Cluff learned soon after the Feb. 10 board meeting, at which the possibility of ending the PAYT program was first raised.

“I didn’t think anyone watched our meetings [from home], he said on Feb. 12, after a joint session between selectmen and the town budget board. “But in the last two days I’ve had more people come to me about trash, and they all want to get rid of the damn bags.”

Kennebunk received six bids for its solid waste services — three to collect garbage and recyclables, and two to manage the transfer station and provide kitchen composting services.

Selectmen have not yet awarded any contracts, and are not expected to until their Feb. 24 meeting. However, at present the low bidder appears to be Pine Tree Waste Services at a cost to the town of $577,298 for curbside collection of solid waste and recyclables.

The new service would mean an end to garbage collectors seen riding on the back of the trash truck, as Pine Tree would use an automated system.

Every resident would be given two 64-gallon, hard-plastic containers, one to be used for trash, the other for recyclables. Different colored lids will differentiate what material goes in which container, which will be picked up and dumped into the truck by a robot arm operated by the driver.

Cameras on the robot arm and in the dump body will photograph each container as it is emptied, generating an automated notice to the town if, for example, regular trash is in the recycling bin, or vice versa.

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts pointed out that the system could also be used to see if someone attempts to use a regular trash bag, rather than the purple and blue PAYT versions.

“In other words,” Tibbetts said, “if someone says I didn’t want to use the pay-as-your-throw bags, if they try to put some black bags on the bottom and a purple bag on the top and think they’re going to fool the town, we have pictures of it, and a serial number on the tote. We could send them a notice to either fine them or discontinue the service.”

The serial number is important because each container would be “geo-tagged” for a residence, allowing the town to not only identify who is responsible for each tote, but to track over time the amount of trash and recyclables generated by each home.

However, some selectmen wondered aloud if the town needed to go to all that trouble. After all, the new system for recyclables will be a so-called “single sort” system. In other words, items such as glass, plastic and tin would no longer need to be separated. Everything would go into the bin provided and dealt with at the Casella plant in Westbrook, where all of Kennebunk’s solid waste is taken.

That being the case, town officials expect residents freed from the burden of separating and sorting will beef up their recycling efforts.

“The bottom line is, and I think there are a lot of people in this town who’d agree with me, if we are going to change this system around then we might as well just do away with the pay-as-youthrow stuff,” Selectman Albert Searles said. “If we’re going to have bins, what the heck does it matter what color those bags are inside that bin?”

Searles and board Chairman Kevin Donovan agreed that, for most homeowners, the cost of rolling Casella’s $73-per-ton tipping fee into the town budget would be “a wash” for most homeowners, when compared to what each spends now on PAYT bags.

By the Feb. 12 budget meeting, Finance Director Joel Downs had run the numbers and found that presumed money turned into an actual savings.

According to Downs, the cost of a new contract — which is $58,254 more than the $499,388 paid to the current vendor, Oceanside Rubbish Inc. — plus bearing the full cost of Casella’s tipping fees if that is no longer offset by the sale of PAYT bags, would add 26 cents to the mil rate.

In other words, awarding the contract as bid and ending the PAYT program would add $91 to the property tax bill of a home assessed at $350,000, or $52 to a home assessed at $250,000.

Although there is an overall increase in costs for the new contract, Tibbetts said the town could manage to save in other areas.

It stands to reap $10,000 in annual savings by eliminating the dozen collector bins kept around town for cardboard drop-off. The town also could save about $11,000 per year for 10 years if it bonds $500,000 to buy the new residential trash containers directly, rather than leasing them from Pine Tree Waste. Those savings already have been assumed and calculated into the new mil rate projection, he said.

That cost also assumes an increase to 2,000 tons, from the current average of a little less than 1,800 tons of trash per year now hauled to Casella, in the first year after PAYT is eliminated. That’s because the assumption, Downs noted, is that people would empty their garages of items they’ve stockpiled rather than buy more PAYT bags.

However, at $15 for a package of five large purple trash bags, the PAYT program cost the typical homeowner $156 per year, assuming one bag of trash is generated per week.

“So, it’s not just a wash, it’s an actual savings,” said Searles. “I think we should just do away with the pay-asyou throw.”

That appeared to be the majority consensus of the selectmen, but not everyone was immediately on board with the idea, on the board or in the audience.

“I think you might eliminate some tonnage at the end of the year because people are more careful about what they throw away in those bags, versus going to the dump,” said Selectman David Spofford. “I know I’m careful to go to the dump with all of my recyclables, because every time I buy five purple bags, it costs me.”

“The bags are meant to encourage recycling and minimize what you throw into the trash stream,” agreed Arline Poisson, a member of the town’s conservation commission.

“It’s more equitable and more progressive because the more you throw away, the more you pay for it,” she said. “The bags encourage more conscientious thinking about recycling.”

Others were concerned at least as much about their wallets as the environment.

That’s a lot. This is a tax increase, for me, personally,” said budget board Chairman Peter Marshall. “You take 26 cents on top of 25 cents, on top of school budget, on top of this — I almost used a bad word — this [school] building project for all three towns, if voters vote for it, that’s a lot.”

However, Tibbetts said his initial draft budget for the next fiscal year, unveiled Feb. 3, included $117,000 as a presumed increase in solid waste costs, almost double what it could end up being, as currently bid. That and other savings here and there mean the potential increase to the next net budget of 5.1 percent, rather than the 6.25 percent previously announced.

That, said Tibbetts, means the potential hit to property taxes from the next municipal budget, if adopted by voters in June as currently proposed, would be 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $45 on the median single-family home in town, assessed at $250,000.

Other aspects of the new solid waste bid will have “no impact” on the budget, Tibbetts said.

CPRC is the low bidder for both management of the transfer station and a new residential composting program. The company’s bid says it will charge user fees, meaning there would be no cost to the town. Tibbetts said CPRC also would install scales at the station and help with its upcoming move.

CPRC also was the low bidder for composting services. It will charge $8.26 per month, plus 15 cents per bag, to those residents who wish to participate. It will then sell back compost to those customers at $1 per 10-pound bag.

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