WATERVILLE — Residents Tuesday night peppered city councilors and trash officials with questions about a proposed pay-as-you-throw and recycling program.
They wanted to know if the tax rate will decrease if the program is implemented and whether people will let their trash pile up for long periods of time, which would cause odor and sanitary problems.
Currently, residents leave their trash curbside and it is picked up once a week by public works employees at no added cost to residents. As part of the pay-as-you-throw program, residents would buy special trash bags that the company, Waste Zero, would leave at places such as stores. Residents then would fill the bags with trash, put recyclables in another container and leave both by the curb. The trash would be picked up by city workers, as it is now, and recyclables would be picked up twice a month by Sullivan Disposal Service and taken to Ecomaine in Portland. The city would contract with Sullivan to haul recyclables.
Resident Joseph Roy was concerned about recyclables such as peanut butter and mayonnaise jars having product in them that can not be rinsed out properly.
“We’re going to have ants and flies and maggots and everything else, right?” he said.
Lissa Bitterman of Ecomaine said the general rule is that her company does not want to deal with a jar half full of peanut butter.
“We ask that you essentially use the product that is in the container, put in some warm water, give it a swish and it’s good to go,” she said.
She said everyone will have different situations and Ecomaine will work with them. Portland, for instance, has 69,000 residents who recycle, she said.
“We can come up with all kinds of creative ideas so you don’t have icky smells and critters around your home,” she said.
Sarah Bernier and Joshua Kolling-Perin of WasteZero gave a presentation about the pay-as-you-throw program, which councilors are expected to vote on in the next few weeks. If it passes, recycling would start in July and the pay-as-you-throw program September 1.
The city’s fiscal year ends June 30. City Manager Michael Roy said the program is estimated to save the city $325,000 in 10 months, from September through June.
Roy is proposing to hold the current tax rate of $27.40 per $1,000 worth of valuation in the 2014-15 budget by instituting pay-as-you-throw, having the schools add another $150,000 of school surplus money to the $238,000 it already has alloted toward the proposed school and municipal budgets and cut $30,000 in funding to some outside agencies.
Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro schools, told Roy and councilors that the Board of Education voted Monday night to support such a no-tax-increase plan.
Haley and some other school board members said they supported the plan, contingent on the city’s not raising the tax rate.
The proposed municipal and school budget for 2014-15 is $38.4 million, about a $1.1 million increase from the $37.2 million budget for 2013-14.
The proposed school budget alone is $20.7 million, a 2.36 percent, or $478,176, increase from the 2013-14 budget. Most of that increase is driven by fixed costs such as insurances and salaries.
Roy said the $325,000 savings he expects to see by implementing a pay-as-you-throw program would be from a combination of three things: the revenue from trash bags residents would purchase for trash, lowering the city’s cost to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington where the trash is taken after it is hauled to Oakland, and the cost to hire Sullivan to pick up recyclables curbside.
The $325,000 would go directly to reduce the city’s tax burden, Roy said.
The city can decide what size trash bags WasteZero would leave in stores for people to purchase. A 30-gallon bag, for instance, would cost $2, and the city would get $1.65 in revenue from the sale of that bag, with WasteZero getting the remaining 35 cents.
Resident Nick Isgro was reluctant to accept the idea that the new program would benefit residents.
“It’s not really giving us control over our taxes — it’s giving us an added tax,” Isgro said.
But Councilor Erik Thomas, who worked on the city’s Solid Waste-Recycling Committee, which recommends pay-as-you-throw, said people should stop calling the $325,000 a savings. The savings is actually in a $137,000 reduction in fees the city would pay for trash disposal.
Money realized from sale of trash bags is revenue, Thomas said.
“The bag fees are offsetting what you otherwise would be paying in taxes,” he said.
Councilors John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, and Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said implementing a pay-as-you-throw program would be a more fair way of paying for trash removal, as everyone — not just property owners who pay taxes — would pay for removal.
“It’s more equitable,” Bushee said. “This way, everybody who puts trash out on the curb is paying for trash.”
Jess Graham attended the meeting with her family. She said she formerly lived in Portland and was satisfied with the pay-as-you-throw program there and the single stream recycling, which Waterville would have as part of the program. With single-stream, all recyclables are placed in one container and put at the curb to be hauled away for sorting.
She said her family used one to two bags per month for trash in Portland.
City and trash officials said pay-as-you-throw reduces waste in landfills, increases recycling and saves communities money.
Items that would be recycled are paper, glass, bottles, plastic, cardboard, advertising mail, newspaper, tin cans, aluminum cans and foil, magazines and catalogs and bottles and jars.
Information about the program will be placed on the city’s website, www.waterville-me.gov, according to Thomas.