Letter to the editor submitted by Sean B. Goldrick, Riverside. Goldrick served two terms on the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation.
It’s a scandal hidden in plain sight, a rip-off that costs Greenwich taxpayers nearly $4 million a year. What am I talking about? The failure of the town of Greenwich to collect a tipping fee from commercial trash haulers. Now if you’re like most people, you have absolutely no idea what a tipping fee is, nor that taxpayers are losing millions every year. Stay with me and I’ll explain.
When you contract with a commercial trash hauling company to have your garbage and recycling picked up from your house, you pay that company a monthly fee. That fee includes the cost of transporting your trash it to a landfill or a waste-to-energy conversion facility. In either case, the fee you are charged by the hauler covers the cost to get that trash to the end of the line. But commercial haulers don’t actually take the trash to a landfill.
Instead, they take that trash (the technical term is “municipal solid waste”, or “MSW”) to the town’s dump, where they leave it for the municipality to cart away to the landfill or conversion facility. Municipal dumps (in the case of Greenwich, the Holly Hill Resource Recovery Center) are operated with taxpayer funds. Every municipal trash facility in Connecticut requires those commercial trash haulers to reimburse local taxpayers for the cost of hauling the MSW from the town dump to the final landfill. After all, the commercial operators have already been paid by the homeowner for the full trip. The fee that municipal dumps charge the commercial operators to take the MSW from the dump to the final landfill is called a “tipping fee.”
That tipping fee includes 1) the cost of hauling the waste from the dump to the end point, 2) the per ton fee charged by the landfill or conversion center to accept that MSW, and 3) some amount to cover the overhead cost of operating the municipal dump. Of course, if the commercial haulers don’t want to pay the municipal tipping fee, they are free to take the MSW to the landfill themselves. If they choose to use the municipal facility, however, they are obligated to reimburse taxpayers for the cost.
As I’ve said, every town in Connecticut collects a tipping fee. Except Greenwich. Greenwich lets commercial haulers dump their trash at Holly Hill, without reimbursing Greenwich taxpayers for the cost of removal to the landfill and conversion facilities run by Wheelabrator Technologies in Peekskill, New York or Bridgeport.
Back in 2014 at a BET budget hearing, then-town administrator John Crary let the cat out of the bag: “The commercial trash haulers are lining their pockets.” He was referring to the windfall profits these companies were garnering at taxpayer expense by not having to pay a tipping fee to Greenwich.
Last year, commercial haulers dumped some 33,000 tons of MSW at Holly Hill, which the town paid City Carting $108 per ton to haul away. That cost Greenwich taxpayers paid $3.6. And if one adds $5 per ton for overhead, it means that Greenwich taxpayers lost $3.75 million that they should have been reimbursed.
Some people have claimed that implementing a tipping fee on commercial haulers would be adding a “new tax.” In fact, the tipping fee constitutes a reimbursement to town taxpayers by commercial haulers for utilizing the municipal dump, not a tax on residents.
Some have suggested that if Greenwich were to impose a tipping fee, the commercial haulers would simply pass on the increased cost to households. Not true. As Public Works Commissioner Amy Siebert and town administrator Crary both related at that budget hearing, Greenwich households are already being charged trash collection fees on par with other communities in our region that do charge tipping fees. Hence, Crary’s accusation that the trash haulers are “lining their pockets” at taxpayer expense.
In 2014, fellow BET member Randy Huffman and I composed a draft 4-year budget proposal in which we laid out the ways Greenwich taxpayers could save more than $30 million over that period. A tipping fee was one of our proposals. Unfortunately, however, our plan was not adopted, and the multi-million dollar taxpayer rip-off has continued.
Who’s to blame for this? First Selectman Peter Tesei and the Greenwich Board of Selectmen possess the authority to impose a tipping fee, but have not done so. Indeed, during the dozen years of the Tesei administration, were a tipping fee in place, the town could have collected nearly $40 million, enough to pay for MISA, and more. Indeed, going forward, a tipping fee could cover a majority of the teacher pension contribution that Greenwich will be required to pay as part of Governor Lamont’s new biennium budget.
It’s time to put an end to this multi-million dollar rip-off of Greenwich taxpayers. Mr Tesei and the Board of Selectmen must begin collecting a tipping fee this year, and finally stop commercial trash haulers from “lining their pockets” at taxpayer expense.