PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's proposed budget does not include changes to the trash pickup system.
But Mayor Linda Tyer has identified it as a priority.
In February, the Resource and Recovery Commission endorsed a plan to give households a 35-gallon tote for trash and as much as a 95-gallon tote for recycling. Those totes will allow the Republic Services to switch to automated trash pickup. It would be the third time the City Council has attempted to make such a switch; twice it failed to gain votes enough votes to pass.
Tyer created an internal working group to iron out all of the details before sending it to the City Council. That group consists of the mayor, Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, who also chaired the Resource Recovery Commission, the city solicitor's office, Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy, health officials, and Parks and Open Space Manager Jim McGrath.
"We're developing the program. We are taking the recommendations of the Resource Recovery and the working group is looking to put them in action," Kerwood said on Tuesday. "We are building the framework for how the program will operate."
There is a wide array of details to be sorted. The city solicitor's office is involved with negotiating contracts with Republic Service, the company which handles the curbside pick up. The working group is identifying state grants to pay for the toters, and figuring out which department would be tasked with writing and following up on the grant. There are needed changes to city code and the Board of Health. Kerwood said a state Department of Environmental Protection grant is due in June so he hopes to have more details after that.
"We would hope to have something a little more concrete to talk about in early summer," Kerwood said.
The program recommended by Resource Recovery is estimated to be a $1.8 million capital expense to purchase the totes. But it is not in the five-year capital plan. Kerwood said if the city can get a grant, it may not have to borrow for the totes.
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo had submitted the petition and he's comfortable with the pace the program is being developed. He said there are still remaining questions about payments, what happens with overflow, how and if residents can buy second totes, and holiday exemptions. Caccamo says he'd rather see those details sorted administratively rather than at the City Council's Rules and Ordinance Committee.
"I'd rather see [the group] hammer those details out and give us some to go to [Ordinance & Rules Committee] with that has questions answered," Caccamo said. "It's slow moving but I'd rather see something take its time and actually pass."
The discussion on a toter system began back in September. Caccamo says the major benefits of the system, which is used in a number of communities throughout Massachusetts, is that the city is cleaner, recycling rates increase, and it is a much more efficient system.
"Right away we get a much cleaner city," Caccamo said, adding that right now excess trash is piled on curbs and sidewalks where animals can get into the bags. The totes would be more secure and thus lead to less trash being strewn around.
As for recycling, the Resource and Recovery Commission estimated the city currently only recycles at an 11 percent rate — a rate Caccamo calls "abysmal." The estimate is that would increase to 33 percent.
And there has been an estimated $87,000 in cost savings estimated. Caccamo said that may not be much when it comes to the city's budget, but every little bit helps.
"This is some smaller steps to close the budget gap," he said.
In the FY18 budget book, Tyer identified the switch to a toter system as one of four key initiatives. While discussions may pick up this summer, Kerwood said, if any change to the system is made it wouldn't be until the very end of FY18. The timeline is somewhat stretched out because Kerwood said those involved want to leave a long lead time to education the public about the changes.
"We're really focused on the education piece," he said.
The proposal would be a major change, which is why Kerwood wants to make sure there is enough time for public engagement. Since filing the petition, Caccamo said he's received a "split" response with some wanting it and others opposing it.
"I hope residents will keep an open mind when they see what is being proposed by the city," Caccamo said. "I think the benefits outweigh the negatives by a long shot."
Particularly, Caccamo said he finds people with connections to other toter systems, as in a friend or relative lives in a town with one, and those who recycle a lot tend to be favorable of it. While those oppose tend to have concerns that it would be an extra tax on larger families. Caccamo believes if families embrace the recycling portion of it, the change won't cause much of a hardship.
"I think when people actually get into the system, a lot of their concerns will be alleviated," Caccamo said.
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