At Monday’s RTM meeting the 230 member body took a vote on a tipping fee ordinance at Holly Hill Resource Recovery Facility, aka “the dump.”
The vote came after months of controversy. Back in February a PAYT presentation at town hall had residents skeptical and haulers unhappy.
After lengthy discussion, and a motion that failed to carry to delay implementation until October, tipping fees was approved in a Vote of 151 in favor and 75 opposed, with one abstention.
The ordinance means that Greenwich’s 26 private haulers will now have their trucks weighed on the way in and out of the dump, and be charged probably at the end of each month based on their tonnage.
The item became controversial when First Selectman Fred Camillo attempted to eliminate the hole in the budget that resulted from China no longer buying Greenwich’s recycling. Instead the town has to pay to have it taken away, though it costs less than removing municipal solid waste.
A program Camillo recommended, “Pay As You Throw,” became controversial in large part because it was proposed to include a contract with a DEEP preferred vendor, WasteZero.
With PAYT, both residential and commercial customers would purchase special plastic bags they would be required to use for their refuse.
The idea was to create an incentive for people to reduce their trash overall and recycle more.
Camillo proposed the town work with WasteZero who would be paid to oversee implementation. They would also sell the required plastic bags.
Mike Basham from the Finance Committee said 167 out of 169 Connecticut municipalities already have tip fees and that they would be easier to implement than PAYT.
He added that the PAYT relies on changing citizen behavior and has the assumption that MSW would decline by 36% due to a dramatic increase in recycling, which he said he thought was overly optimistic.
“Haulers are looking to attract clients and mitigate impact of price increases,” Basham said. “And citizens have the opportunity to seek cheaper prices.”
Basham said haulers fees range from $25 to $85 a month for essentially the same services.
The comments kicked off with Lucia Jansen of the Budget Oversight committee who said tip fees would offset the $3.7 million hole in the budget and that many on her committee said tip fees were ‘long overdue.’
She said Holly Hill offers a significant service to private refuse companies and that Greenwich, without tip fees, is an attractive destination for illegal out-of-town dumping.
“Next door Port Chester, Stamford, Westport, Darien and New Canaan all have hauler tip fees,” she said.
“Finally, the RTM added an 18 month sunset clause in the ordinance to review the implementation and explore other approaches,” she added.
A motion to delay implementation until Oct 1, 2020 was debated.
“The town is deferring taxes, and that is one of the rationales for delaying tip fees,” said Mark Fichtel. “Delaying taxes delays payment. Delaying tip fees delays revenue. I oppose the delay.”
Michael Spilo of the Public Works committee said, “If we believe we have illegal dumping – we pay $95 per ton for MSW – that can immediately be reduced by eliminating neighbors’ waste.”
He said if tipping fees are implemented quickly the town will get a handle on how much illegal dumping has taken place because soon the food scrap recycling program will be implemented and that may lower the tonnage of MSW significantly.
The motion to delay until Oct 1, 2020 did not carry.
By not approving the Oct 1 date, the decision about when to begin imposing fees is left with the Selectmen and the DPW.
Henry Orphys said tip fees were simpler and cheaper for residents, and will demonstrate to residents the cost to dispose of their trash.
Also, he said, “I think it is bad policy to have residents buy a product from a private company.”
Ron Strackbein said that tip fees not only inhibit haulers from disposing of waste from neighboring communities, but it also incentivizes residents who haul their own trash to decrease their trips. Residents will be able to purchase a permit for $25.
Rachel Khanna disagreed, arguing that tip fees are more regressive than PAYT because the increased costs are passed on to residents, and right now residents are facing economic hardships.
“(Hauler fees) will increase between $10 to $15 a month regardless of a resident’s economic circumstances.”
Joanna Swomley said, “PAYT has achieved great results in New England communities. It saves money and reduces trash. It’s a proven first step for communities that want sustainable goals.”
Longtime hauler Jimmy Santaguida asked RTM members to consider unintended consequences.
“Ask yourself how this will effect 62,000 residents and their families and businesses who will struggle for months and may not make it,” he said. “We should form a special committee along with two haulers to resolve the many questions.”
Another longtime hauler, Tom Finocchio, who serves commercial and residential customers, said his customers are already angry.
“They can’t pay their bills now or later. The commercial accounts will pay thousands more a year, and residential customers will pay hundreds a year. My business is down 59% like others. Business is not coming back.”
Beth Macgillivray questioned why PAYT hadn’t gained traction in Connecticut.
“PAYT has been around in Massachusetts since the 1980s, but only 21 of 294 counties are using PAYT exclusively,” she said. “It’s not that popular.”
Brooks Harris described the the proposal for tip fees as simple, necessary and having precedent.
“And it makes non-taxpayers help us pay for our waste disposal,” he said.
After discussion and vote in favor of tip fees, Cheryl Moss spoke on item 7, which concerned the Pay As You Throw alternative.
Moss said, “PAYT would cost less it would encourage less MSW and more single stream recycling.”
Kip Burgweger of the Legislative & Rules committee said the RTM would not have a chance to review and approve the contract with WasteZero.
“How unusual that a state agency has a single source vendor relationship,” said Lucia Jansen.
Michael Spilo of the Public Works Committee said there were concerns about having a single source for the plastic bags, and that the town had not considered other suppliers.
In addition to the high cost for the bags, he said there were concerns about enforcement.
Mr. Byrne said if the motion to postpone PAYT indefinitely were passed it would kill the proposal.
The tipping fees ordinance includes a sunset provision that provides chance for further evaluation.
Ms. Moss said, “When the sunset clause for tipping fees sets in, it’ll come up again.”
The vote to postpone PAYT indefinitely was 198 in favor and 17 opposed with five abstentions.