Mayor Linda Tyer said the city needs to look for cost savings in all of its services, and that includes trash pick. She put forth a petition to overhaul the service last month.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Many city councilors are critical of implementing a new trash collection program.
The council debated the issue for a second lengthy meeting on Tuesday. The City Council first fielded the switch from the current curbside trash collection program to a toter system, which the administration says will help lower annual operating costs for garbage collection, at a committee of the whole meeting a month ago.
Before it came up for discussion at the following council meeting, Councilor at Large Kathleen Amuso halted talk with a charter objection, a provision in the charter stopping discussion of a topic for a meeting.
On Tuesday, the City Council spent another 2 1/2 hours digging further into the details with no intent to vote. The issue will now be pushed into the new year when the City Council will feature two new councilors.
Particularly, the City Council wanted more details on the capital cost. Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood presented three options to pay for the upfront costs to purchase the toters. The proposal is currently looking to provide residents with a 45-gallon toter for trash collection and 96-gallon for recycling. Residents will have to purchase overflow bags in order to get rid of anything that does not fit in the bins.
Kerwood said they could borrow the $1.3 million for those toters. The city is looking to purchase 18,000 45-gallon toters at a cost of $574,200; 18,000 96-gallon toters for a cost of $727,020; and 730 64-gallon toter for residents who might want smaller recycling bins. The city has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the state to help with that cost.
In total, that would lead the city to borrow about $1.1 million. He said over a 10-year term at an estimated 4 percent, that would cost the city $145,247 per year. The interest in total would cost $274,000. That scenario does not include the assembly, distribution, and freight costs, which Kerwood said he would not want to borrow and instead use some $280,000 worth of free cash for that.
Kerwood said if the City Council opted to go with the larger 64-gallon toter for trash pickup, the total loan would be about $1.3 million over 10 years for an annual payment of $163,000 and paying a total of $308,000 in total interest. That also does not include a borrowing for the assembly, delivery, and distribution costs, which would come from free cash.
The second option would be to pay for all of it up front. Kerwood said if the city paid both the capital and the freight cost for the 45-gallon and 96-gallon proposal, the $1.3 million would leave the city with $3 million remaining. At the 64-gallon proposal, the city would be left with around $2.8 million.
The city is currently expecting to have a total of $4.4 million in free cash available.
The final option would be to use the city's $425,324 in bond proceeds as part of it. The proceeds are money the city had already borrowed in the past but the projects authorized for the money to be spent on came in under budget. The money has already been borrowed and part of the city's debt payment schedule.
"That is money left over from other borrowings that we currently pay debt service on," Kerwood said.
He suggested possibly using those and free cash for the capital purchase.
He added the difference between the two options -- 64 or 45-gallons for trash -- is $3,600 for collection. But, previously he said the larger the tote for trash is, the less impact it will have on the amount being disposed. The benefit of the program, according to the administration, isn't in the collection costs but in the disposal. The program is eyed to increase the amount of recycling, which in turn will reduce the amount of trash being disposed.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi questioned whether the toters should be a priority. He said the City Council just recently opted to hold onto more free cash instead of using it to lower the tax rate. And now, just one meeting later, the administration is considering using that money for trash cans.
"We could have given the residents a break but now we are spending the money on toters," Morandi said.
He cited streetlights that hadn't been repaired, the need to combat crime, and roads being chip-sealed instead of being paved as other priorities.
"Are toters really a priority?" he questioned.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, too, cited an array of other areas he felt the city could use the money instead.
"This isn't a need. It is a want," Connell said. "Some of these streets are dark. That is a need. You what else is a need? Sidewalks they can walk on without breaking an ankle."
Council Vice President John Krol cited the 68 school employees who were laid off in the last budget cycle as a way to spend the money. Krol says while the switch in the program can save money annually, the payback on the up-front costs will take seven years.
"I feel really uncomfortable in a fiscal year we let go of nearly 70 positions in our school department. What kind of values does that show in our community then we are willing to put up $1.4-and-change-million dollars for plastic garbage receptacles," Krol said.
Krol said there are other ways to achieve the same ends without the upfront costs.
Mayor Linda Tyer said the school employees who were laid off is exactly the reason programs like the toter system needs to be considered. The annual cost savings with a toter system is estimated to be around $89,000, a number that could increase if more trash is diverted.
"It is offensive to me that we are laying off teachers when we are doing nothing to save money on garbage collection," the mayor said.
Meanwhile, Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said she is supportive of the environmental reasons behind the change. But yet, she is reserved when it comes to the impacts it will have on people's lives. She told stories of how the changes will impact specific residents in her wards on a day-to-day basis. Particularly, she doesn't like that the bulky waste program will be completely eliminated, leaving residents to be mostly on their own to dispose of large items.
The administration is hoping to implement the program in April. Many city councilors said they'd like to see it go to bid. But, it isn't an item that has to be and Kerwood said the timeline for bidding would make it difficult to implement this spring.
"Before we go out to bid, we have to have a program. We have to develop a scope of service," Kerwood said.
Kerwood said a timeline for bidding wouldn't get a contract executed until the end of March. But it isn't until a contract is executed that a hauler would purchase the trucks.
But Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo doesn't feel a delay would be a bad thing. Mazzeo suggested slowly implementing the program, with launching a focus on improving recycling first and then bringing in the restriction on trash.
"I think we have to take our time with this. I don't see a rush," Mazzeo said.
A similar idea was expressed by resident Bob Heck, who addressed the council with his plan to take a "training wheels" approach to it. He, too, suggested implementing the recycling portion of it first and following up with the trash later. He said that isn't the ideal way to handle it, but he said he fears the entire program will be defeated by the City Council as currently presented and nothing will happen.
"We cannot just let this die again like we did 11 years ago and eight years ago," Heck said.
The City Council will take it up again in January after a new City Council is in place. Incoming Councilors Earl Persip and Helen Moon were both in the audience for the lengthy debate on Tuesday.