Submitted by Sean Goldrick of Riverside. Goldrick served two terms as a Democratic member of the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation. He lives in Riverside.
Greenwich first selectman Fred Camillo is proposing implementing a new plan, “Pay As You Throw” (“PAYT”), for waste disposal, in which residents will have to purchase trash bags for $2 a pop to dispose their trash. He says it will have a “budget effect” of $4.2 million a year, while reducing trash and increasing recycling. Here’s what’s really going on.
Camillo just proposed the biggest tax increase in Greenwich history- over $15 million, the biggest percentage increase in nearly a decade, way above the finance board’s guidelines. Instead of reducing his tax increase, he’s proposing a budget gimmick that takes trash removal costs out of the budget, and substitutes a regressive system requiring residents to purchase trash bags instead. Though Camillo paints his plan as a statewide initiative, in reality only one town in Connecticut operates PAYT- Stonington. No town has signed on in nearly 30 years. While raising fees for taxpayers, however, he’s maintaining the gravy train for commercial trash haulers, letting them keep over $4 million in tipping fees that every other town in Connecticut requires them to pay.
Currently, the town’s transfer facility, Holly Hill, handles about 50,000 tons of throughput a year- 36,000 tons of trash, or “municipal solid waste” (MSW), and 14,000 tons of recycling. The cost of hauling away MSW is $93.66 a ton, or $3.4 million in total; for “recycling”, it’s $65 per ton, or $0.9 million. So the total cost to be paid out of property taxes, is $4.3 million. Camillo contends that PAYT, by forcing residents to pay $2 per bag for trash, would reduce household MSW by 13,000 tons, and cut the cost of carting MSW from $3.4 million to $2.2 million. But the volume would shift to recycling, which would nearly double to 27,000 tons, increasing that cost from $0.9 million to $1.8 million. So the total cost of carting from Holly Hill would only decline under PAYT from $4.3 million to $3.9 million.
Camillo claims that an average family would use one bag a week, costing about $100 a year. That is on top of the roughly $500 households have to spend for pickup by commercial haulers. For all Greenwich households, the cost of bags would total $2.3 million. But hold on: WasteZero, the company supplying the bags, takes 15% of bag revenues, just over $340,000, cutting net revenue to the town to under $2 million. So under PAYT, Greenwich bag revenues come up $2 million short of what’s needed for carting fees. To make up the projected shortfall, Camillo would have to request an interim appropriation, or else admit that the numbers don’t add up, and keep $2 million in property taxes on the books.
So Camillo’s claim of a $4.2 million “budget effect” is not a saving, but a gimmick. Under PAYT, households would spend $2.3 million bags, and another $2 million from property taxes. End result: virtually no change in cost from the current system. His gimmick makes his record tax increase looks smaller, the mill rate goes up less, but after spending for bags, town residents would not be better off.
And let’s consider that most of what goes into recycling is never actually recycled, but instead either burned, put in landfills, or shipped overseas. It’s not at all clear that the volume shifted from MSW to recycling would actually be recycled.
And now to that gravy train. When you pay your monthly pickup fee to a commercial hauler, you’re paying to have those materials taken for final disposal. Instead, the haulers dump the materials at the municipal transfer station, Holly Hill in Greenwich. In every other town in Connecticut, haulers are required to reimburse taxpayers for the convenience of utilizing the municipal transfer facility by paying a per ton tipping fee, which is included in households’ collection fees. In Greenwich, that fee should total over $4 million. But Greenwich doesn’t make those haulers pay the fee, instead letting them pocket the cash. That’s why then-Town Administrator John Crary stated a few years ago that the commercial haulers are “lining their pockets” at taxpayer expense. So Greenwich taxpayers pay twice: first in their monthly pickup fee, which haulers pocket, and again through their property taxes.
And let’s be clear: the haulers are not giving Greenwich homeowners a break on price. Monthly fees charged to Greenwich homeowners are comparable with fees charged in other towns in our region that do require haulers to pay tipping fees.
First Selectman Camillo, who operated his own trash hauling business for years, defends his decision not to require haulers to pay tipping fees by painting this as an industry of 24 small family companies barely getting by. In reality, however, just three large companies – Finocchio, City Carting, and Santaguida – control two-thirds of the Greenwich market. And those companies serve many towns in our region and New York, all of which require them to pay tipping fees. The remaining haulers are mostly tiny companies with minuscule market share. In short, those big trash haulers certainly have the ability to pay tipping fees to the town, but instead are lining their pockets at taxpayer expense.
That’s what this is all about. Camillo is proposing a budget gimmick to cover up his proposed record spending increase, while keeping the gravy train going for commercial haulers. In the end, his budget gimmick won’t save money, it will hurt low-income residents, and we all lose by his permitting trash haulers to continue pocketing more than $4 million that the town deserved to be paid for use of its transfer facility.
PAYT is a great deal for Camillo and the big trash haulers; for the people of Greenwich, it stinks.