The city is looking to provide 96-gallon toters for recycling to residents.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has begun a lengthy debate over changes proposed for the curbside trash pick up program.
Mayor Linda Tyer has put forth a plan to switch to a toter system, which is seen as a way to increase recycling, reduce costs to the city, and combat blight. The city would provide a 45-gallon tote for trash and a 96-gallon tote for recycling.
The totes come with a restriction on the amount of trash that can be placed on the curbside without an additional charge. Currently, curbside trash pickup is unlimited.
"I'm confident our citizens can adjust to a new way of thinking about our garbage habits," Tyer told the City Council on Tuesday.
Tyer called the move a "disciplined and methodical" approach to increase efficiency in city government. She said the city would join 149 other communities in moving to such a system. Beyond saving the city in disposal costs, Tyer sees the toters as ways to clean up blight and at least double the city's 11 percent recycling rate.
"This will also enhance our commitment to environmental stewardship and to improve blighted conditions," Tyer said.
The planning for such a move has been more than a year in the works. Back in October, the city faced a crisis point when the waste-to-energy producer Covanta faced near closure. The city provided more than a half million dollars to keep it operating. That triggered a grander look at the city's trash hauling system.
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo put forth a petition asking the city to consider moving to a toter system. The Resource Recovery Committee took on an examination of the curbside trash pick up in September 2016, ultimately turning out a recommendation early this year to move to a 35-gallon toter for trash (which was later increased in the mayor's proposal to 45 gallons) and 96 gallons for recycling.
The proposal came before the City Council on Tuesday at a Council of the Whole meeting — essentially a subcommittee meeting that includes all sitting city councilors. The council heard the proposal, heard from residents, and posed questions to city leadership for more than three and half hours.
Ultimately, it voted to send it to the full City Council level for more discussion — coming to no consensus on the issue.
According to Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, who chaired Resource Recovery and was part of an internal management group fleshing out the final proposal, the city currently disposes of 16,225 tons of solid waste per year. There are 17,552 households being services by the program, which breaks down to 50.8 gallons of trash per week.
"What we are suggesting with a 45-gallon toter is that the average family eliminate 5 gallons of trash a week," Kerwood said.
Republic Services has the contract to collect the garbage. City codes requiring residents to keep trash in a 32-gallon container has been mostly ignored and not enforced. That leads to bags of trash being piled up on sidewalks, where the garbage is exposed to wild animals and the weather.
While each year the city residents get rid of 16,226 ton of solid waste, only 11 percent of that is recycled. According to the Resource Recovery's examination, using a 48-gallon (slightly bigger than the mayor is proposing) the 11 percent would increase to 29 percent.
"Our current system creates limited incentives for increased recycling," Kerwood said.
The city also uses a dual stream option for recycling. Every week residents can leave their recycling out for pick up, but the paper and plastics are collected on alternating weeks. That would change with the current proposal to a single stream so all recycling can be placed in the same bin. But, it would only be collected every other week.
The current program has cost the city $2,915,579 in the last year — with collection costing $1,671,760, disposal costing $987,674, and hauling costing $266,145. Kerwood anticipates the cost to increase for the next fiscal year to $3,071,343.
To switch to the automated trucks, the city's contract price just for collection would increase to $1,923,033 for fiscal year 2019. But, if 15 percent of the waste is reduced, then disposal costs will drop to $792,697, while hauling would remain the same — adding up to $2,981,875.
That estimation is $89,468 less than the estimate if the city stays with the current system in the next year.
Council Vice President John Krol didn't like that the collection aspect of the contract would actually increase. Republic Services General Manager Dan Higgins said that part of the contract would rise because the company would need six new trucks with the automated arms — replacing five trucks and adding one.
Krol said he understands the capital aspect of buying new trucks, but he said the company would be saving money by reducing staffing, which in turn reduces costs such as workers compensation.
"If we can't show significant savings from this and the operations of this, I have concerns about that," Krol said. "I know operationally you are saving dollars and that needs to be passed onto the city,"
Higgins said the staff reduction won't be so dramatic. Right now Republic Services has five routes through the city and has a total of eight workers — between drivers and helpers. The automated system would require an extra route, an extra truck, and the workforce would be cut to six.
The overall savings is dependent more on the amount of trash being disposed of. If less trash going for disposal, the greater the savings will be.
The overall savings if there is a 20 percent reduction in the amount of trash being disposed of bumps to $150,803; and $212,129 if the city can divert 25 percent of waste, according to Kerwood's numbers.
"The greater reduction in solid waste, the greater reduction in cost. It is that simple," Kerwood said.
Beyond 25 percent, however, the cost savings start to decrease, according to Kerwood. The city's current contract with Covanta for recycling limits the number of trips to a recycling facility in Springfield to 212.
"Right now we are doing 130 trips per year, well below the 212," Kerwood said.
Former Director of Public Works William Forestell isn't convinced. Forestell worries that the move will end up costing the city more in the end.
"My evaluation of the numbers, they just don't work. The cost of collection plus the cost of toters, especially since we are going with the 45-gallon toter as opposed to the 35, pretty much offsets the savings from trash disposal," Forestell said.
He added that the city receives money from sorting its recycling and the mayor's proposal moves to a single stream — meaning the different types of recyclables don't have to be separated.
Kerwood's estimates did not include the cost to purchase the toters themselves. Kerwood received quotes from the company Otto on the toters. It would cost the city $574,200 to purchase 18,000 45-gallon toters. It would cost $727,020 for the 18,000 96-gallon toters. The city is also looking to offer a 64-gallon toter to residents who might want the smaller one. The city is planning to order 720 of those for a cost of $26,870. Shipping for all of those to be delivered would cost $151,050.
Kerwood said the city has been awarded $160,000 state grant toward the purchase and he has options of ways to finance the remaining $1,319,140.
He did not present those financing options on Tuesday, saying he expected a lengthy conversation about the switch and financing would be a separate conversation from Tuesday's initial presentation of the proposal.
"The toters belong to the city. If the toter is damaged or the toter is stolen, the city will replace it at no cost to the resident," Kerwood said.
Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully, however, said she wished those options were presented on Tuesday. She wants to know when the city would actually see savings.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell pressed Kerwood for a number on what the annual debt service bill would be if the city bonded to buy them for 10 years — the length of the guarantee from the company — but Kerwood said he didn't want to get held to a number he would have had to think of on the spot.
Impact on Residents.
Kerwood said on the average home is asked to reduce just 5 gallons of trash per week. Households will be asked to use only the toter for trash and recycling disposal.
If the home isn't able to fit all of the garbage in the 45-gallon bin, the resident has the ability to purchase overflow bags. Those bags will cost $2 or $3 depending on the size and be sold in various locations throughout the city. Kerwood described them as industrial quality bags.
"Residents will have to do things a little bit different," he said.
The residents can leave those bag next to the toter and the driver will exit the vehicle and toss them into the truck.
Kerwood said not many of the households will need to use bags very often. Of the homes the city serves with trash pick up, Kerwood said 93 percent of the homes have four or fewer people. He said 35 percent of the households have only one person; 32 percent has just two, and 15 percent have three people. Only 7.5 percent of the city's households have five or more people living in them.
Those living in larger households have the ability to purchase a second toter for $150 per year.
The extra toter and overflow bags will create equity in the system, according to Kerwood.
"Everybody gets the same, everybody gets 45 gallons. If you put out 35 gallons on a weekly basis, right now you are subsidizing the person who puts out 96 gallons," he said.
Resident Terry Kinnas, however, said residents won't buy the overflow bags. He believes residents will start dumping garbage in other areas of the city instead.
The city's demographics also raises a concern about the size of the toters.
James Gleason worked with the toters for a decade and he doesn't see how senior citizens will be able to push them to the edge of the road and back — especially when there is bad weather. The city has an aging population, so there are more and more people who won't be able to handle the toters, he said.
"I worked with those toters for 10 years when I was a custodian at Pittsfield High School, they are very hard to handle empty or full. I don't see how the elderly will handle this," Gleason said.
Resident Michael Bushey added that those with disabilities are also put at a disadvantage when it comes to the toters.
Higgins said not only is there an option for the smaller size of 64 gallons for recycling but that the company has worked with residents in the past to address some issues — even going so far as having the driver grab the trash barrels from the rear of a home.
While others raised concern about the bulkiness of the bins, saying they would take up too much space in a garage.
At-Large Councilor Peter White said most communities that have adopted such provisions have gone to 64-gallon toters for trash, bigger than the administration in Pittsfield is proposing. He questioned why the city is looking at a smaller size.
"Our own data shows the average gallons per week is 50. Our concern with 64 is that you are giving people more than the average," Kerwood said, cycling back to the purpose of the change is to increase recycling.
Kerwood said the city would deliver all of the toters to the city residents and then hold a collection day to take back all of the other trash bins residents no longer want.
The program is eyed to start on April 1, 2018. Tyer said she has targeted a spring start so that the city can work out any kinks in the summer rather than during the winter.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli said residents right now aren't aware of the changes. He said as he started to talk to people, many were clueless about the proposal.
"The answer that kept coming back is that they didn't know anything about it," Simonelli said. "Tonight we are springing it on them."
Tyer said she has a public education plan in place. But, she didn't want to roll it out until she knew if the City Council would approve or make changes to it.
"We didn't want to create more confusion by getting out ahead of you on a proposal that you may not approve of," the mayor said.
Simonelli said he represents the residents in his ward and so far, based on what they know, they aren't in favor of it. He wished the public education campaign came before he was asked to cast a vote on the decision.
Impacts on the city
The biggest impact noted would be the cleanliness of the city.
"It is a modern, efficient collection system, less labor intensive, uniformed toters issued by the city - you look down the street on garbage day you will see uniform toters," Kerwood said.
Resident Mike Merriam is a delivery driver and he has seen trash being strewn about on curbs. He has seen residents putting bags out on the curb three or four days before trash day and then animals getting into them and spreading the rubbish all over.
"We probably should have done this 10-15 years ago," he said.
Merriam did say he had some concerns with the size of the bins as well as how the trucks would be able to get in and out of some of the streets. But overall, he was supportive of the move.
Enforcing residents compliance with the system will fall on the Board of Health. Health Director Gina Armstrong said her department already fields numerous calls regarding trash issues and often writes citations and fining for nuisance conditions. The city had applied for a state grant to hire an enforcement officer but was not awarded the funds.
Armstrong, however, said the toter system will significantly reduce the workload the department currently has chasing down the complaints that staff will be able to focus on targeted areas of non-compliance with the toter system.
Katie Lauzon, the chairwoman of the Morningside Initiative, said she hadn't recycled in the past and when she started to, she was amazed at how much her trash was reduced.
"The cleaner the city looks, the better people feel about living and staying here," she said. "All of us have a part to play. It isn't just up to one person or one department, it is up to all of us to keep the city moving forward."
Across Massachusetts, 149 municipalities have moved to a similar system. The discussion will at least last until the next City Council meeting and can also be again sent to the subcommittee level.
A proposal to change the way residential trash is collected is heading to the City Council. The Resource and Recovery Committee on Wednesday passed a favorable recommendation on Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo's petition to switch to a totter system.
Covanta is expected to remain open now that the City Council has granted the waste to energy facility $562,000 to help with capital repairs. The council on Tuesday approved the expenditure from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund.
The group looking at a possible overhaul of the city's trash collection is putting nearly everything on the table. The Resource Recovery Committee met for its second thing this month in its ongoing look into changing the way the trash system operates.
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