Monday night’s RTM set a record, with 228 out of 230 members in attendance.
The meeting of the 87 yer old legislative body was held virtually, via Zoom, for the first time. In-person meetings have been suspended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were no Zoom bombers,” said Alexis Voulgaris Tuesday morning. “It was a well orchestrated ballet.”
The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to discussion of the merits of tipping fees for municipal solid waste at the town’s Holly Hill Resource Recovery Facility, aka “the dump.”
The RTM Public Works committee made a motion to add a paragraph to towncode regarding how the tipping fee would be calculated. However, the motion failed (32 in favor; 193 against).
The Finance Committee’s motion to suspend rules and wave the second reading requirement also failed to carry, as it needed two-thirds of the vote (130 in favor; 92 opposed).
Still most of the speakers urged a vote.
Speakers were limited to 2 minutes each, and moderator Tom Byrne announced that 80 people had signed up.
The chief proponent of tipping fees, First Selectman Fred Camillo, who is a former hauler was given 5 minutes to speak. The chief opponent, Tom Cornelius, a longtime hauler who is a member of District 3, was also given 5 minutes.
Camillo said when the Board of Selectmen were sworn into office the town faced an additional charge for waste disposal.
“We knew we had a $3.7 million bill for municipal solid waste,” he said, adding and that while previously the town could sell its recycling to China, that is no longer the case.
“We’re looking at a $65.00 per ton charge for recycling for an additional $912,000,” he said. “That’s almost $5 million.”
“We were told by lots of municipalities that they love it (Pay As You Throw) but it takes a while. It became clear that the votes weren’t there,” he said. “I respect that.”
Camillo described tipping fees as “a certain thing. “It’ll plug a hole, and we’re really in no position to be putting anything off right now.”
He said it’s important to set a per ton tipping fee not much lower than those of neighboring towns to avoid the risk of outside garbage finding its way to Greenwich.
Camillo said Port Chester charges $110 per ton, for example.
As for a site access fee for residents, neighboring towns charge between $95 and $125. “We thought $75 would be fair,” he said adding that he was concerned about generating additional traffic through Chickahominy.
He said he would have preferred a per car charge per visit, as there is in Ridgefield, but the way the dump is configured, that is not feasible.
“You have to have some type of site access fee,” he said. “I don’t think burying it the taxes is an honest way to conduct government.”
“To keep our mill rate low, give the tax payers a break, and pay for the services with a guaranteed fee source revenue that is a certainty – this is it,” he said.
Mr. Byrne noted that a proposed Legislative & Rules cap on household site access fee of $25.00 had already been approved.
Tom Cornelius from District 3 urged the RTM to fully investigate both tipping fees and PAYT. He said a petition asking the RTM to table tipping fees for a year had 1,600 signatures.
“Mr. Camillo says PAYT is his preferred choice,” Cornelius said. “Then why is he proposing tipping fees? Is it because it’s easier to let haulers take the blame for increased costs? Or because it brings in revenue sooner?”
Cornelius warned that traffic would become a problem in Chickahominy if more residents bring their garbage to the dump. He noted that two weeks earlier, with the new protocol for social distancing at the dump slowing the flow of traffic within the site, traffic backed up to St. Roch and the town brought in Greenwich Police to oversee the flow.
“It’s not set up to handle this type of volume,” Cornelius said of Holly Hill. “It adds pollution. It’s become so bad the town has stopped handing out permits for the facility. How will they handle the increased requests for permits once haulers increase fees?”
Lucia Jansen, who conducted a benchmark study, said, “Without a tipping fee ordinance, the town would have a $3.7 Million hole in the fiscal year 2021 town budget.
“What I learned is that tipping fees are universal among all contiguous neighboring towns to Greenwich, including Port Chester, NY and Stamford, CT,” she said, adding she recommended a resident permit for Holly Hill be “market rate.”
“With no tipping fee, taxes will increase greatly, without spending cut offsets,” she added.
Aamina Ahmad from the town legal department said her department had found nothing in state statutes that put limit on tipping fees, but in general referred to fees being “reasonable.”
There was much debate over whether suspend a second read of the proposal, and wait until May.
Though the motion to skip asecond read ultimately failed to carry, most of the voices were in favor of tipping fees.
Brooks Harris was one of many voices arguing it was time to vote on tipping fees. “Almost every other town in the state does this. Something with that much precedent isn’t going to have unintended consequences.”
Dan Ozizmir from district 5 agreed and pointed out that having tipping fees would reduce waste from other towns making its way to Holly Hill.
“We’re overthinking this issue. We should have done tipping fees years ago,” Ozizmir said, adding that tipping fees would have brought in $35 million over the past 20 years. “Greenwich does nothing while 167 towns have some form of tipping fees.”
There were proponents of another look at PAYT.
Joanna Swomley said the town should have considered tipping fees years earlier. She urged the RTM to consider tipping fees side-by-side with with PAYT in May. She noted tipping fees have been around for a long time, likening them to an old rotary phone and PAYT to an iPhone 12.
David Snyder of District 6 said, “I emphatically urge you to vote no to this item. There is a hybrid solution that will emerge if we give it time.”
Snyder said tipping fees would exacerbate hardships brought on by the pandemic because haulers will pass on the cost of tipping fees to residents, and unlike PAYT, tipping fees “do nothing to address environmental issues.
Cheryl Moss, chair of district 8, said she too wanted a “side-by-side” look at PAYT versus tipping fees at the May RTM meeting.
“There is no urgency,” she said. “We have an extra month to consider PAYT. It’ll fill the same budget gap.”
Several people said they had issues with PAYT being attached to DEEP’s recommended vendor, WasteZero.
Michael Basham said that consultant’s assumptions were “not realistic,” especially in “uncertain times.” He said tipping fees would be a more reliable revenue source.
Dan Ozizmir said with PAYT, 73% of savings would go to pay WasteZero.
“If WasteZero’s assumptions are not right, we’ll still pay $650,000. WasteZero has no risk. Greenwich tax payers do,” he said.
“We’ve been debating this expansion of government for months,” said Carl Higbie from district 8. “PAYT and tipping fees generate about the same amount of revenue. The only difference is with PAYT you spend 15% of that right to a private company, WasteZero.”
“With tipping fees, 100% goes to the town. Period,” Higbie said. “Plus, there’s less administration involved with it.”
Higbie said the most important aspect of tipping fees is that it provides residents a choice.
“If your hauler decides to jack up your rate to $200 a month, fine, you can take your own trash to the dump,” Higbie said. “Do you want government to run your life and tell you what bags to buy? In a town that banned plastic bags a year ago?”
Doreen Pearson of district 7 said, “It’s time that we have tipping fees. We’ve given haulers a free pass for years and years.”
Ryan Fazio, from district 12, who is a Republican candidate for State Senate, said tipping fees reduce incentive for haulers to dump waste from other towns and would prevent a major tax increase.
“PAYT gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private corporation to sell the special bags which tipping fees avoid,” he said, adding that PAYT would force residents to congregate to purchase garbage bags during a major public health emergency.
“How many more emails, texts and editorials do we need on the pros and cons (of tipping fees)?” asked Wynn McDaniel. “Let’s get on with it so we can get on with the bigger issues facing our town.”
Ross Moore agreed. “I believe this issue has been around for a while. I don’t believe new science will elucidate the RTM in the next month.”
Roger Clarke of district 10 said, “A tipping fee is simple to administer and requires no burden on the public. And, unlike PAYT, we don’t need any more plastic to be brought into this state.”
Longtime hauler Jimmy Santaguida said it would be unfair to charge haulers $112 a ton if residents pay just $25 for a permit to bring their trash to the dump.
“Anyone taking down their own garbage should be charged equally. That doesn’t seem to be the case,” Santaguida said.
BET chair Mike Mason said his board had not taken a formal position on tipping fees, but that if tipping fees were not instituted, the BET would have the choice of either raising taxes or using fund balances.
The vote on the RTM Finance Committee’s motion to suspend the rule requiring a second read required a two thirds vote (148 votes.)
There were only 130 voted in favor, and 92 opposed. Hence the vote failed and there will be a second read in May.
Around 11:45pm, with just 15 minutes remaining to the midnight hard stop, a motion from District 8 to add discussion of Pay As You Throw to the agenda was introduced.
Mr. Byrne noted that if it were to pass, that would perhaps require the RTM to reconvene the following night.
Byrne explained that under FOI, a public body “may” consider a non agenda item, but it would require a 2/3 majority to pass.
The vote failed to pass. The vote was 42 in favor and 152 opposed.
The PAYT model will appear on the May call. That is the result of a petition from 20 registered voters.