WATERVILLE — Political sparks are flying about the city’s new garbage collection and recycling program as Election Day approaches.

The dispute took center stage Tuesday when Ward 6 City Council candidate Jibryne Karter III told a council meeting that there are problems with the program, spurring a tense argument with Mayor Karen Heck and criticism from other officials, including his opponent, incumbent Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6.

Karter, an independent candidate, said residents in Ward 6 have told him trash accumulates in the area and he has seen signs of illegal dumping in Dumpsters and public waste bins since the pay-as-you-throw program started last month.

A Burleigh Street resident whose Dumpster typically is not full of trash now is full, Karter said. He added that there’s trash in a backyard and in the woods off Burleigh Street that never had trash before.

Bushee, however, said she has been knocking on doors in the city and has heard none of the complaints Karter cites. She also said she hasn’t received any phone calls from people complaining about the program.

Karter’s remarks also brought strong responses from city officials who say the program needs time to work.

“Jibryne, you don’t support pay-as-you-throw, do you?” asked Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5.

O’Donnell’s question kicked off a sharp exchange between Karter and Heck, who said she it was “very good” Karter brought attention to those issues, but noted that the pay-as-you-throw program was instituted only recently and that Karter has not supported it from the beginning. She recommended that he look forward instead of merely complaining.

“If you are going to be a councilor, then you need to be thinking about how you can move this city ahead,” Heck said, raising her voice.

“Why are you yelling at me?” Karter asked.

“Because you are irritating,” she replied. “You are on people’s Facebook pages with comments that are not true.”

Karter, who has frequently posted lengthy comments on Centralmaine.com stories about the program, asked to be shown examples of anything he wrote that wasn’t true.

City Manager Michael Roy asked Karter to relay complaints he receives about pay-as-you-throw to city officials. “When you get those kinds of complaints, send them our way,” Roy said.

“I appreciate that there is going to be some effort to resolve this,” Karter replied.

“Absolutely — we don’t want stuff lying around,” Roy said.

The trash discussion started during the council meeting’s community notes period, when South End resident Heather Merrow complained that 21 days had passed before her recyclables were picked up because of the way the weeks stacked up. Sullivan’s Disposal, of Thorndike, collects recyclables the first and third full weeks of every month, so the four months each year that have five weeks result in a week with no recycling collection.

“Twenty-one days is just a long time,” Merrow said.

Heck asked Roy about the chances of having recyclables picked up every other week. Roy said the contract with Sullivan’s is set for this year and the company is unable to collect recyclables more often because it picks them up for other customers. But Roy said residents may drop recyclables off at Shredding on Site on Armory Road, which is accepting the city’s recyclables again.

“But Mike, if you don’t have transportation, you can’t take it there,” Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said, adding that she agreed with Merrow that 21 days is too long. Rancourt-Thomas is also an independent candidate for Waterville mayor.

Roy reported that as of Monday, about five weeks into pay-as-you-throw, the amount of trash collected at curbs was down 193 tons from last year. The city collects about 4,400 tons of trash annually from 5,000 residential properties, schools, city buildings, playgrounds and other sites.

“It’s about 10 tons less every single day with pay-as-you-throw,” he said.

About 13 tons of recycling was collected the first week in July and in September, the average was 23 tons, he said. This week, the amount was 30 tons. The cost to dispose of trash is $80 a ton, so the city’s savings is about $4,000 a week, according to Roy.

After Karter disputed Bushee’s claim that she hasn’t heard complaints, saying he knows people have contacted her, Heck shut him down.

“All right — you’re done, thank you,” she said.

Undeterred, Karter addressed Bushee’s comments. “I have been knocking on doors and I have had some complaints,” he said. “If you want the names, I can give them to you.”

Officials discussed the possibility of increasing recycling pickup to every other week. Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said that’s what the city initially wanted, but the hauler could not do it this year.

“We’re hoping that in year two that can be changed, but the reality is we’re going to have to get through this first year,” Thomas said.

Roy noted that during holiday weeks in November and December, there should not be a problem with long periods of time passing between recycling pickup.

“Recycling pickup mirrors garbage pickup, and on holiday weeks, we have double pickup,” he said.

In response to a question from Heck, Roy said the three public works employees who work the trash pickup truck finished their routes between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. before pay-as-you-throw. Since the new trash collection rules went in to effect, they are done by 11 or 11:30 a.m. and are available to do other work needed in the department.

In other matters Tuesday, councilors voted 7-0 to ask the Planning Board for a recommendation on a request by Centerpoint Community Church to rezone 155 West River Road to allow for conversion of the Sparetime Recreation bowling alley on the site to a church.

Councilors also voted 7-0 to:

• contract with Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers of Gray for $45,925 to conduct a traffic-pedestrian study of the intersection of Spring, Water and Main streets, with the funding to be shared equally by the city and state Department of Transportation.

• approve buying a laser shot firearms training system for the Police Department for $20,000. Two more votes are needed to finalize the purchase.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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