OPINION: Tipping Fees Have Resulted in Higher Hauling Rates for Residents

Submitted by Scott Kalb and Svetlana Wasserman

A study completed by RTM members Scott Kalb (District 7) and Svetlana Wasserman (District 10) finds that residents are facing an average 27% increase in their bills (31% including the new Holly Hill permit) following the start of tipping fees on July 1, 2020 as approved by the RTM.

Haulers now have to pay $112 for every ton of municipal solid waste they dump at the Holly Hill transfer station. This reduced town expenditures on waste disposal, previously paid for through taxes, but haulers have been passing these costs (and then some) on to town residents and businesses. The increases in hauling bills have been an eye-opener.

Kalb and Wasserman conducted a survey of over sixty households across all districts in town to find out if residents are being treated fairly and if the rate increases they are facing are in line with what the proponents of tipping fees had promised. According to the data, the answer is no.

In making their case in newspaper editorials and presentations to the RTM in May 2020, the proponents of tipping fees had forecast that haulers would absorb 25-30% of associated costs and raise rates by about $82 per year, a 13% increase.

According to Kalb, “This was always a disingenuous claim—no hauler should be expected to lose money—but it is worth noting the
average increase has come in at $164 per year, double their estimate.” If you tack on the new $25 Holly Hill permit fee, the average annual bill has increased by 31% or $189, rising to $795.

“We find it unfortunate that overly optimistic assumptions were used to make the case for tipping fees, misrepresenting the cost to residents versus the ‘Pay As You Throw’ option,” stated Wasserman.

The study finds that the average resident is now paying more for garbage removal out-of-pocket than previously through their property taxes. Tipping fees are a regressive solution—all residents are now hit with a flat tax regardless of income levels (one of the major reasons why 65% of towns in Connecticut do not impose tipping fees on the majority of their residents). Kalb states, “Imposing a flat tax on residents during a pandemic is just a terrible idea, especially in a wealthy town like ours with abundant reserves.”

According to the study, tipping fees are hurting our town’s religious institutions and not-for-profits. Christ Church’s waste hauling bill increased by 40%, Temple Sholom’s bill went up by 51%, the Round Hill Community Church bill went up by 53% and the Greenwich Library bill increased by 100%.

“Straining the budgets of our religious and cultural institutions during a pandemic is shameful. It will now be up to the members of our community to pick up these unbudgeted costs through increased dues and/or donations,” said Wasserman.

Reduce Waste Production Rather than Tax Residents
The study argues that tipping fees do not tackle the real problem – reducing the total amount of municipal solid waste that our town produces. CT’s Hartford incinerator, which processes one-third of CT’s waste, is closing down. The 50+ CT towns and cities that dispose of their waste at Hartford will have to scramble for alternative capacity, leading to higher fees at the Bridgeport facility, where Greenwich disposes of half of its MSW.
“We send 36,000 tons of MSW every year to incinerators, literally burning our dollars. As long as we produce this much garbage, our town waste disposal costs will continue to rise, leading to a rising cycle of tipping fee rate hikes in the future, as has been the case with most towns that use
this solution,” states Kalb.

Tipping fees give residents and businesses little control over their garbage expenses. They provide no financial incentive to take advantage of the town’s excellent free food scrapping program, launched at Holly Hill on June 15. “If people were incentivized to recycle food scraps, it would save them and the town money, because recycling food scraps is free,” explained Wasserman.

What are the Options?
The report explores the options available to residents to reduce their bills. Contrary to the promises of tipping fee advocates—that competition among haulers would limit increases—the study found a large variance in the rates charged by haulers, ranging from $50 to $101 per month. The average rate today in town is $64 per month or $770 per year, and according to Wasserman, “This is the new normal. If you are above this average, you might consider negotiating with your hauler or shopping around among other haulers serving your neighborhood.”

The study suggests that perhaps the best deal going is to pay $25 per year for unlimited direct drop off at Holly Hill and haul your own garbage. This option does come with downsides, including a lot of work, long lines to enter Holly Hill on Saturdays, and higher costs to the town for the disposal expenses.

The RTM put a sunset clause in place to review tipping fees at the end of 18 months, and First Selectman Camillo has promised to set up a special committee to study the impact of tipping fees and review options for the town.