WATERVILLE — A special committee that has been exploring alternatives to solid waste removal in the city for about a year is expected to issue its preliminary report to the City Council Tuesday night.
Councilors Tuesday will also review proposed budgets for several city departments including health and welfare, planning, code enforcement, economic development and the fire department, according to City Manager Michael Roy.
The meeting will be in the council chambers at The Center downtown, with the budget session beginning at 6 p.m.
The Solid Waste Recycling Committee, created by the council July 16, was charged with studying the city’s current solid waste disposal and recycling practices and recommend changes, if any, before the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“I think solid waste is by far the biggest municipal issue facing the city going forward,” City Manager Michael Roy said. “Our budget is a huge, huge issue and funding schools is a huge issue but there’s no other city issue that is going to have as much change in the next three years as solid waste.”
The 10-member committee, made up of two city councilors, residents and city officials including Roy, met about eight times over the last year.
Roy said the panel discussed three options: contracting the city’s trach pickup to save money, instituting a pay-per-bag system and curbside recycling.
He said officials think the pay-per-bag system — which would charge residents $2 per bag for garbage — would prompt people to recycle more.
The city picks up garbage curbside five days a week, with one worker driving the truck and two collecting the trash. The cost for personnel and equipment is about $220,000 a year and disposal is another $362,800.
The city collects about 4,400 tons of trash annually from 5,000 residential properties, schools, city buildings, playgrounds and other sites. The garbage is taken to the Oakland transfer station, which costs the city $6 a ton for disposal. Garbage from there is taken by private hauler to Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. in Orrington, where there’s also a tonnage fee. The city pays an annual charter membership fee of $7,500 to the municipal review committee.
Waterville residents also may take items including cardboard, newspaper, office paper, glass, cans and plastics, to be recycled at Shredding on Site on Armory Road, at no cost. Electronics and related items may be taken to the Skills Inc. center on Armory Road or the transfer station on Airport Road, where fees are charged.
“I think one of the biggest questions with this whole study that the committee has done is, âShould the city go to a user-based system for trash disposal where you pay for what you throw away?'” Roy said.
He said the committee strongly believes that if a pay-per-bag is instituted, curbside recycling also should be in place.
Public Works Director Mark Turner said Wednesday the city in the past had curbside recycling but abandoned it about 15 years ago because of cost.
The recycling program was a joint effort of Waterville and Winslow, through the Waterville-Winslow Solid Waste Corp. The two communities also had a recycling center on Armory Road that ultimately was sold to Ken-A-Set Association, which operated a recycling drop-off program. Skills Inc. eventually took over the operation but discontinued it last year. Shredding On Site, also on Armory Road, started taking recyclables from city residents, free of charge.
Turner said that in the past, residents sorted their recyclables in separate containers but if the city were to return to curbside recycling, all items go into one container.
“Everything would be all in together and it would be sorted at a facility that has special machinery that pulls everything out and separates everything,” he said.
Roy said the city’s contract with PERC ends in 2018, but it is important the city discuss the waste issue now.
“If we’re going to be going to a new site, we certainly can’t wait until 2017 to have public discussion and votes and change the budget,” he said.
Roy doesn’t expect the council to vote Tuesday, but rather talk about the different ramifications of the options.
After Tuesday’s meeting and at some point during Public Works budget talks, officials will discuss whether the city will make changes in solid waste disposal for the next budget year, Roy said. That discussion likely will be later this month or early in May, he said. A public hearing also would be held on the issue.
“Our goal is to try to inform the public as best we can on all of the ramifications of making changes,” Roy said. “That’s our overriding goal, to make sure people understand fully, as best they can, and as best we can.”
Changing the city’s current solid waste practice can produce very substantial savings, according to Roy.
“That’s the only reason I am in support of a pay-as-you-throw system is the very substantial savings to the city, but it would mean some increased costs people aren’t paying now,” he said, referring to the $2 fee residents would have to pay for each bag.
The benefit of a change would be decreasing the tax rate, he said.
Besides Roy and Turner, members of the Solid Waste Recycling Committee are city councilors Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7; Bob Gilchrist, engineer and project manager for the city’s Public Works Department; Linda Woods, coordinator of the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition; Ross Nason of Kennebec Valley Council of Governments; and residents Mark Macksoud, Ann Willette and Stu Silverstein.