Waste Management Committee Co-Chair Resigns during Selectmen Meeting

On Wednesday the Board of Selectmen did a second read of a waste management ordinance that includes 5 recommendations from the First Selectman’s committee on waste management:

•  $10 fee for a single visit for residents without a $25 annual permit.

• Resident non-passenger vehicles go over the scales and be subject to fees. 

• DPW commissioner, with approval from the Selectmen, comes up with fee structure, including the definition of resident non-passenger vehicles.

• Residents with items such as refrigerators and ACs pay a fixed fee determined by the DPW commissioner with approval of Selectmen. 

• DPW commissioner authorized to create a system of enforcement. 

Holly Hill trash area. Photo: Leslie Yager

The RTM voted in 2020 to request that the First Selectman create a committee to look at all waste disposal options, including PAYT and tipping fees, as well as any other options that might be available. Since the tipping fees took effect, haulers have passed on the cost of the tipping fees to customers. Residents who pay $25 for an annual dump permit have unlimited access, and, as a result, are not sharing in the town’s tipping fees, but it is unknown how many residents pay a hauler in addition to the $25 annual permit.

The cost to the town to dispose of 5,800 tons of MSW dropped off directly by residents (about 17% of total tonnage at the dump) is $550,000. The permit fees raised $196,000, leaving a gap of $350,000, which is paid for from our taxes. Committee members said residents doing direct drop off are not paying their share of tipping fees, creating a fairness issue.

Access to the dump however, includes a lot more than trash disposal. It includes recycling, book swap, Goodwill, food scrap recycling, textile recycling, yard waste, contractor waste, scrap metal, safe disposal of batteries, and American flags for proper disposal.

Committee members said if the permit fee was raised it might discourage people from recycling and from participating in the food scrap program, etc.

Selectperson Jill Oberlander suggested an amendment to the draft ordinance that would give flexibility to the DPW commissioner and the Selectmen to possibly create a unit-based pricing program or another method to cover those costs.

Committee co-chair Mike Basham said it was not the right time to talk about the fairness issue or permit fee structure options, though the committee had suggested three options, including a unit based pricing option that would cover the cost of direct drop off as well as to help cover the cost of enforcement which has become an issue with implementing the permits. 

A resident drops off recycling at Holly Hill. Aug 12, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

Committee member Scott Kalb disagreed. He said it was indeed a good time to address the issue of fairness. He said it was unfair that some people bring in as much trash as they like for the cost of a $25 permit.

Kalb said he’d like to see a usage fee exclusively for residents who bring their own trash to the dump, and that it would address a revenue shortfall.

“It would only affect the small group who are taking advantage of this system at the expense of everyone else,” he said.

Committee member Julie DesChamps agreed. She said increasing the permit fee might deter residents from participating in food scrap recycling or bringing down items like batteries or electronics for proper disposal.

Mr. Basham said there was a different “fairness” issue. He said the first 50 lbs of MSW measured when people drive passenger vehicles over the scale are exempt from charge. 

“People bringing in large amounts get (the first) 50 lbs for free, why should people bringing in small amounts have to pay (a unit fee)?” he asked. 

“I think that’s a red herring here in that discussion,” Oberlander said.

The ordinance says non-passenger vehicles go over the scale.

Siebert said the scale is set up so that so shorter vehicles can be weighed per the State weights and measurements regulations and because of how the scales are calibrated and licensed.“We can charge for 51 lbs and up,” she said. “But, if they are longer commercial vehicles or something long with a trailer, they’ll hit the load cells such that 200 lbs is the minimum.”“It’s how the scale was built, and we go in accordance with the state weights and measurement requirements.”

Basham said if people feel passionately about a different approach, it could go before the RTM in future. He felt that a “bag solution was premature.” 

Dan Ozizmir, also on the MSW committee, agreed with Basham, but added that the primary goal of the committee was not exclusively to close the revenue shortfall.

“Primarily it was to review the ordinance passed a year ago at the request of the RTM.”He said the main reason there is a revenue shortfall is because the town doesn’t charge tip fees for recycling. “That’s a $1million hole.” 

Camillo said he would never want to see a fee for recycling.

Mr. Ozizmir said having a bag fee for direct drop off would mean instituting “a complex program just to recover a few hundred thousands of revenue, and did not get majority support on the committee.”

He said an outside auditor’s report suggested implementing “simple solutions,” and that a unit fee for direct drop off was not advisable.

He suggested the town look into installing a license reader, that combined with enforcement, would indicate what the permit holders were doing. For example, to determine if a resident was coming twice a week or once a year.

Amy Siebert said she’d spoken to the auditors. “I did convey to the committee that the auditors said, ‘Keep it simple.’ A bag program adds a lot of complexity in terms of who is handling the bags? How are you handling the money?”

But Siebert said if the town desired to have a per unit fee, DPW would be happy to implement it.Oberlander said her view was, “Government is – let’s get it right the first time. I would never delay intentionally and repeat a process when we have the opportunity with just a few words to improve it now.”

Ms Rabin said the discussion beyond the proposed ordinance was not necessary.

Ms Oberlander disagreed. She said the committee had done a tremendous amount of work and she wanted to hear all the their recommendations.

Mr. Kalb reviewed the three fee options the committee came up with: One would feature a $10 increase from $25 to $35 with a discount to seniors who would pay $25; one would increase the cost of a permit to $75 with a fee discounted to $50 for seniors. A third option would keep the fee at $25, with $0 for seniors, but with an added $1.20 unit fee for a 30-gallon bag.

Oberlander proposed an amendment that would allow the DPW commissioner, with Selectmen approval, to adopt any of these options:

“Town residents directly disposing waste pay for an annual $25 fee, plus such other fees for direct drop off of MSW as such fees shall be deemed necessary and established by the commissioner after consultation and approval by the Board of Selectmen. 

“It’s a program to be developed by the (DPW) commissioner. It gives her a lot of discretion,” Oberlander said.

Camillo said he had concerns about Oberlander’s proposed amendment.

“For years and years we heard Greenwich was the only town in CT that didn’t have a tipping fee. We gave people a choice of tipping fee or PAYT, which I personally thought was pretty good. This administration got it through. The $5 million hole was addressed. It was not easy. We subsequently found out there was a hole between $300,000 and $500,000, but the $25 permits knocked that down considerably.”

He said it would be a better idea to look at the situation again in a few months and revisit some of the options. 

Basham said there was not unanimity among committee members over increasing the fee from $25 to $35 or $75 or implement a unit fee, and that the amendment as proposed only reflected what the committee agreed on. 

He said that in future it would be possible to offer an amendment to the RTM for consideration. 

Kalb had a different view. He recommended addressing the fairness issue now rather than later because some residents are abusing the opportunity to drop off of unlimited MSW. 

He said a permit fee hike would punish people dropping off recycling, individual items or food scraps. He still favored leaving in the option of some type of unit based pricing for direct drop off residents, and with Oberlander’s amendment a unit fee would still go before the RTM.

“We’re not talking about a town wide effort, but something that would impact 15-17% of our trash.”

The selectmen voted on Oberlander’s motion to amend, with Rabin and Oberlander voting yes and Camillo voting no.

Camillo said he wanted to respect the document before the board and that he agreed with Basham. 

Cheryl Moss, who co chairs the MSW committee with Basham said the explanos before the board did not reflect the hard work of the entire First Selectman’s Waste Management committee. 

Referring to Basham and Ozizmir, she said, “the explanos reflected the opinion of two committee members above the rest of the committee.”

“Not once in all the notes I’ve taken have we as a committee referred to the tipping fees or permits as ‘a huge success.’”

“There was general acknowledgement that fees had been pushed onto residents, and that to call the permit program ‘popular’ is a misnomer,” she continued. 

She also decried the lack of enforcement.

“Just as when the sunset clause on tipping fees was recommended to be removed, this is falsely being put forward as a huge success. Instead of doing what is best for the town and residents, this proposal is doing what is politically expedient. I can not support these proposals at the RTM and I am removing myself from the committee in protest of the way it has been hijacked by two members who presented their own agenda as that of the committee – Twice, wasting my time and that of our committee members.”

Camillo disagreed. “Right now we’re not at a complete success, but to say the tipping fee has not produced any success is wrong. There were lots of non-profits and others who were not paying anything and now are paying something. So there is some fairness there.”

“Having been excluded from the explanos being circulated, I have to disagree,” Moss said. “As co-chair of this committee I cannot express that this is the work of the whole committee.”

After this exchange, Ms Rabin said she wanted change her vote, but it was too late. Instead they voted on a motion to reconsider. Then they took a vote to remove Oberlander’s amendment, and to restore the ordinance as initially presented.  

Rabin and Camillo voted yes. Oberlander voted no. She said the reason for her no vote was to give the DPW commissioner and Selectmen flexibility to use the committee’s recommendations, including a possible unit based pricing for direct drop off.

“I voted no because we had an opportunity as a board to pass along to the RTM a modification to the code that would be effective and implement the recommendations and allow for community conversations about the MSW committee’s work. Instead of providing for that, what seemed in my view, some ulterior motives, perhaps.”

Ms Oberlander said it gave her pause to learn that Ms. Moss was not in favor of the ordinance. 

Rabin and Camillo voted yes and Oberlander voted no.

See also:

Increases to Dump Fees Discussed at Selectmen Meeting
Aug 13, 2021

Selectmen Vote Unanimously for Tip Fees; Hold their Noses at $25 Resident Permit Fee
June 2, 2020

Board of Selectmen Discuss Tipping Fee Sunset Clause, Ways for Fees to Be Equitable
March 7, 2021

RTM Votes to Implement Tipping Fees at Town Dump; Kills Pay As You Throw

May 12, 2020