There is a push for changes to trash collection but what exactly the new program will look like is still being debated.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer believes in the proposed toter system for trash collection.
But some city councilors have other ideas.
Tyer has continued to take her plan to community meetings, letting residents get a feel for the toters and ask pending questions.
For Tyer, the plan hits a number of city priorities: cost containment, environmental stewardship, improve public health, and brings equity to the system.
"Every ton of trash we throw out costs us money and every ton of recycling we send to a facility brings in revenue. We, as you know, are in a position in our city where we have to look at every single public service we provide with taxpayer's dollars and find ways for savings and innovation. Garbage is a big part of the service we provide," Tyer said.
The City Council, however, didn't like the plan to give residents a 45-gallon toter for garbage and 96-gallon toter for recycling, with an option for residents who need more to purchase overflow bags or a second toter. It voted to send the proposal back to the mayor.
The mayor has since doubled down on her plan and has been holding the series of community meetings to relieve the anxiety many in the general public have about it — and councilors heard from many uneasy residents during the earlier deliberations.
But Council Vice President John Krol doesn't want the toters at all. He says the financials don't add up and that there are ways to achieve the same goal of reducing trash without the upfront capital costs associated with the plan.
Since the mayor has opted to stick with her proposal at this point, Krol teamed up with Councilors Donna Todd Rivers and Helen Moon to submit a petition to have the City Council meet with Waste Zero, a company which analyzes and designs collection programs for cities, to discuss a modified pay as you throw program.
"The three of us are not satisfied with simply having the toter proposal as the only option to look at," Krol said. "I feel not enough work was done to look at alternatives."
A pay as you throw system has been implemented in a number of communities. That requires residents to pay for the collection and disposal of the amount of trash the homeowners disposed of. A full system like that wouldn't be liked in the city since right now it has the "Cadillac" version of collection, but he would like to know if there was an option to provide a certain number of bags to residents at low cost — the city will still pay the lion's share for collection and disposal - and then offer the overflow bag options for those who need more.
"People buy bags anyway ... this would create the incentive for people to reduce the number of bags they would use," Krol said. "The most efficient way to reduce waste and cost is through a full pay as you throw program."
Krol said he particularly is looking to avoid the capital costs. He said the $1.4 million upfront cost mostly eliminates the estimated savings ranging from $89,000 to $215,000 per year. He expects that even if the toter proposal does go forward, the council would vote to increase the trash toter size to 64 gallons, which he said will "obliterate" the estimated savings.
"Overall you have the ability to see the savings the toters promised without the upfront cost," Krol said. "I just don't think the numbers work [with a toter system] and I don't like this plan."
Tyer is planning to pay for the toters, and deliver them to every household, with basically cash on hand. The city will then dispose of any resident's current garbage can if they would like.
The city is eligible for a $150,000 state grant and plans to put $460,000 in bond proceeds toward the upfront cost.
"We have borrowed money over the years for certain projects to benefit the people of Pittsfield and those projects come in under cost. They come in under budget. The leftover money that we have borrowed goes into a fund and we can reallocate it for another kind of capital expenditure," Tyer said.
The remaining $1 million would come from free cash — money from previous year's budgets that had also gone unspent.
"This is your money. This is money you have already given to us. We are going to give you something back that will help us be better at the work we do at collecting garbage. We are going to give you back your money in the form of two toters and we are asking you to help government be better managers of trash collection," Tyer said.
The toters have wheels, handles, and lids — receptacles that could cost a resident a few hundred dollars to purchase on their own. The cans are easily moved and will help make the hauler's job of collection much easier. In turn, the restrictions on the amount of trash will help save the city money.
"You are getting a toter with wheels and an attached lid that is easy to maneuver," Tyer said.
Tyer has often used the phrase "shared responsibility" and in this case, the toter proposal hits that note. The city will provide the toters and replace the broken ones as needed and, in turn, residents will throw less away. The city spends $3 million per year on the disposal of waste and the 45-gallon toter would force residents to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
"There aren't many cities or towns that continue to do [trash collection] as part of the public service. We do not want to eliminate it from what we provide to all of you. We want to continue collecting garbage for taxpayer dollars. But we have to be smarter at it, we have to be more efficient, we have to take advantage of innovation is we want to be a progressive community," Tyer said.
The mayor also said the city will replace toters that break.
Tyer adds that the toters will also combat blight and public health hazard. Right now, the city provides unlimited trash collection and disposal and often that leads to bags upon bags being left on the curb, exposed to the elements and animals. The toters will be more secure and provide for a cleaner city, Tyer said.
But Krol says the city already has an ordinance requiring the trash to be in bins. Simply hiring a code enforcement officer to monitor the trash situation would solve some of those issues at a lower cost than buying toters.
Both plans would achieve the concept of providing equity in the system.
"The people who are putting out one bag are subsidizing the people who put out 10 bags. That's an inequity, in my opinion. In this system everyone, the 17,000 households that are eligible for garbage collection, gets a 45-gallon toter. Everyone gets the same amount of trash for taxpayers' dollars," Tyer said of her plan. "If you need more than this, then you will have to purchase overflow bags."
Krol said his vote against the toter plan was because he wanted the mayor to look into an alternative concept. But, "she's doubled down on the toter proposal, that's abundantly clear." So now he's asking Waste Zero to provide an alternative.
"It is a commitment to say we want to see an alternative plan because everything has been full toter," Krol said.
It would be up to the mayor to negotiate contracts with haulers, allocate budget money for the program and enforcement, in order for an alternative plan to actually be implemented. If the mayor doesn't want to administer a bag program like Krols, the council's hands are somewhat tied.
On the other side, the mayor needs the City Council to accept the grants, expenditures, and adopt the rulers of a toter plan.
The trash talking will continue this spring. Tyer has adjusted her timeline and would like to move a toter plan forward in July. And the council has mostly supported some form of reform to the system.
"I think most councilors would like to see waste management reform," Krol said.
Exactly what will rise over the rim has yet to be determined.