HIGBIE: Pay as you throw plan is garbage… and is just another tax, but there is a better solution.

Letter to the editor from Carl Higbie, RTM District 8

Over that last 16 years Greenwich has incurred massive increases in its cost to operate. Healthcare cost to the town has risen from about $15m, to $60mm an increase of 400%! Pension obligations in the same time have gone from $7mm to $26mm. Insurance premiums tripled in the same time. To be fair we have added some coverage but not triple the coverage. Add to this to the fact that in last 5 years the town has lost about $10mm a year in grants and promotions from the state for various reasons but not by anything we as a town have done. We have been generally good stewards in personnel, Hiring in police, firefighters, highway and other town employees has stayed relatively flat over last 30-40 years. But, this is over a $100mm increase of liability on $440mm budget in less than two decades. Yet our great BET has managed to keep our tax rates comparatively low.

But the recent balloon in cost on waste disposal has become a subject of discussion. The cost to get rid of our town trash amounts to a little over 4 million bucks a year. Over the last two decades this has increased; Loss of recycling revenue, increased cost to transport and incinerate and a few other factors. Fred Camillo has decided something must be done to compensate for it.

Fred, the RTM and our town is faced with three options on the matter: Raise taxes, a tipping fee, (charge hauling companies by weight) or a new “green” concept called “Pay as you throw” (PAYT). Aside from the irony of a town that banned plastic bags now forcing you to BUY plastic bags, this is just another tax, the same as raising the mill rate.

The all-knowing state government via the DEEP has recommended this “Pay as you throw” (PAYT) program in which the town will pay a private ($238mm) company “WasteZero” a consulting fee (which is likely not cheap) to advise the town to mandate special plastic bags (that they will profit 35 cents on each bag) that will cost every home owner $2 a pop. For the average family of 5 this could be about $4-500 a year. There are still a bunch of unanswered questions, but in many of the WasteZero’s 800+ areas they have helped implement PAYT, all that I have been able to read about have seen a number of similarities. They have in fact reduced general waste between 5% and 25% and a dramatically increased recycling (which is irrelevant because that is not a savings for our town). On the other side, illegal dumping has surged. Waterville, Maine reported this as a major problem, in many other areas, people in overloaded town receptacles.

One of the other areas people will be encouraged is to compost their food waste. Sounds great but let me tell you the reality of this practice. Most people work long hours and can’t be bothered to do this, so write off 50% of the town actually doing it. The other half (and that’s being generous) will construct compost areas on their property… and they smell terrible. Where houses are closer together it will become a matter of tension, in the more rural areas of town there will be increased wildlife. As an avid outdoorsman and hunter let me tell you how this plays out. Black bears have been moving south over the last 10 years, Coyotes are a regular fixture and we are fairly used to raccoons, now multiply their food source by 10x, don’t let your pets outside unless you are armed.

So after talking to some of our fine fiscally sensible folks on the BET, I propose a fourth option.

Money has to be made up somewhere so why not do what the private sector does. Businesses don’t have the power to confiscate your money at gunpoint via taxes or make laws that force you to give them money, they can only offer you a product worth buying. Let’s get people to give their money to the town in a mutually beneficial transaction.

Last year my wife and I paid $220 each for tickets to the food and wine festival. I would estimate that there had to be at least 4000 people that riffled through there totaling what I calculate, about $900,000 in revenue, not to mention the local commerce (hotels and restaurants) were booked solid in the area (local revenue). Charge businesses a flat fee, maybe 500-2000 bucks to set up a booth, pay a big-name celebrity to play their music, DJ the rest of the time and POW, you got a party that would net the town probably half a million bucks after we pay the needed responsibilities.

That park is booked less than half a dozen weekends a summer, let’s take that money we would spend on WasteZero’s consulting fee and hire a private firm to organize the party. We bring in people that will spend money at our local businesses, town gets big revenue, people come from all over to have fun AND… The government didn’t force you to pay anything more. Fred, your move buddy.