Pittsfield: Toters Are a Go

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is toter-lly ready for a new trash system.

Call it a victory for Mayor Peter Marchetti, who was able push through in six months a new waste pickup model that had eluded his predecessors. 

The City Council approved draft five-year contracts with Casella Waste Management on Tuesday, moving Pittsfield from unlimited curbside collection to automated collection with 48-gallon toters for trash and recycling.

Recycling will begin on Sept. 13 and trash routes will start on Oct. 18 with toters provided at no cost to residents. Officials predict this will trim the trash budget by about $600,000 to $4.6 million, with $80,000 in savings embedded in the FY25 operating budget.

"There has been more communication and education, at least, about this rollout than I've seen before," Councilor at Large Kathy Amuso said.

Solid waste and recycling pickup was the main point of contention.

The contract for collection passed 8-3 with Councilor at Large Alisa Costa, Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren, and Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey in opposition and the contract for Casella's operation of the transfer station at 500 Hubbard Ave passed unanimously.

Warren explained that he is not against the contract but has issues with the procedure and some of the terms. He suggested that if the councilors "really don't scrutinize this contract," they are doing a disservice to the city.

"We need to learn by our recent mistakes. The settlement contract case where we were sued, the cannabis case, by companies based on the contract and without getting into specifics, let's just say better scrutiny of the contract would have protected city taxpayers," he said.

"And someone will say 'Well, that doesn't apply here' but there are minor errors in the contract as we talk that have not been addressed."

Last month, the council voted to refund a sum of more than $786,000 to three local cannabis dispensaries for allegedly "unreasonable" Host Community Agreement fees, a lawsuit that has popped up around the state

Warren brought up past traumas of the council chambers, pointing out that if there was an appropriate time to make a charter objection it would be with this contract.

"I am not going to support voting for this," he said. "There's no rush, we've operated without a contract for over a year."

Costa also felt that the contract seemed rushed.  Several amendments were sent to the council in advance of the meeting, including terms that were requested during a Committee of the Whole hearing.  
She had concerns about a lack of bilingual education specified in the terms and community members who were not reached, adding, "I feel like I should wear a sign when I'm downtown that says, 'Talk to me about trash.'"

"I think you did a great job in making the case for the 48-gallon toters, for automation, for the cost savings, all of that is great. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know that and I do feel, gosh, I feel like — I can't believe I'm saying this: I agree with a lot of what Councilor Warren said," she said.

"As somebody who works in the community, and this is a community rollout, it's something really important in the daily lives of people and their quality of life, I've made mistakes in my own career of rushing and I do feel the pressure of this. We have a timeline and all that but rushing is where we make mistakes that often harm when we didn't mean to because we didn't talk to the right people, enough people."

Officials say Pittsfield's nearly 17,400 households produce about 1,800 pounds of trash each annually, collectively generating close to 20 tons as a community. The proposal aims to reduce each household's waste to 1,370 pounds annually.

For an extra $40 quarterly, households can have a second 48-gallon toter for trash and a free toter for additional recycling. The aim is to encourage recycling over throwing away solid waste.

"I don't know how much communication I can do in two weeks," Mayor Peter Marchetti said.

If the council did not approve the agreements, there would be an $80,000 deficit in the budget for public services.

"I think this is going to be one of those things, I kind of agree with the mayor, where two weeks is not going to change the communication and most people won't care about it until we ramp up our push to give everybody this information," Councilor at Large Earl Persip III said, explaining that he wants to get it rolled out before winter time.

Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi expressed concerns about the impact of 48-gallon toters on larger families.

"I have spoken about the stressors on young and growing families," she said, pointing to the prices of owning a home and rising taxes.

"If we find ourselves in a place where all of our growing families or young families are under this immense stress, I hope that we can find a better solution for them," Lampiasi said.

The council also approved a formula-based approach for water and sewer rates aimed to fairly adjust rates yearly using the Consumer Price Index Factor (CPIF) and the Operational Stability Factor (OSF) and an eight percent raise for the rates.

The average water bill for one toilet will increase by about $24 per year, rising from $295.52 in FY24 to $322.44, and the average sewer bill will increase by about $30, rising from $378.80 in FY24 to $409.12. The annual bill would total around $732.

Additional toilets would rise from about $149 in FY24 to about $161 for water and about $190 in FY24 to about $205 for sewer, totaling about $366 annually. Metered water would rise from $2.16 per cubic foot in FY24 to $2.33 for water and from $4.50 to $4.86 for sewer.

In FY24, water rates rose 12 percent and sewer rates 25 percent.

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Pittsfield Starbucks Closed Temporarily

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

A sign outside the coffee shop assures customers the closure is only temporary. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Your alarm goes off, you get ready, and you leave for school, work, or whatever your appointment a little bit early to get a cup of coffee to start your day, only to find that the Pittsfield Starbucks, located at  555 Hubbard Ave., is closed. 
The sign has been removed, and the drive-through is blocked, but Starbucks coffee addicts need not worry — this closure is only temporary. 
The coffee shop closed its doors temporarily on July 7 to undergo a standard renovation with the chain's new Siren System, a Starbucks spokesperson said. 
According to the signage, the reopening date is projected to be Aug. 21. 
According to its website, the Siren System is part of the chain's Starbucks Reinvention plan, which aims to improve the experience for partners and staff by responding to changing needs and increasing demands. 
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate our store portfolio using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers," the spokesperson said. 
The chain's article on unveiling its innovations said, "Over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings."
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