AUGUSTA — The city may reinstitute a spring collection of residents’ bulky waste, but city officials warn a return to free curbside collection offered many years ago would clean out the public works budget and take workers’ time away from other tasks.

Public Works Director Lesley Jones said it could cost about $150,000 to return the free spring curbside collection of items such as couches, mattresses, carpets and metal and wood debris.

Until 2013, the city still conducted a spring collection of such items, but charged a $25 fee to residents to participate. Jones said when the collection was free many residents participated, but as the fees climbed, participation dwindled. She said by 2013 only around 95 residents took part and paid the fee to get the needed stickers to have items picked up.

Even with the fee, she said, the city still didn’t cover its costs for the program.

“We kept bumping up the prices and what we saw was steadily decreasing participation, because people said, ‘I’m not going to pay $25 for you to pick up my trash,'” Jones said. “In 2013, even with the $25 fee and the fact we were probably only picking up stuff from 95 residents with stickers, we were still subsidizing it at about two-thirds. Over the last four years we ran the program, the total cost was almost $22,000 and we got $8,000 of revenue. So it was still a significant subsidy from the city for the people who wanted the service.”

City councilors say they still get some calls from residents who want the program to return. At their meeting Thursday night, councilors asked City Manager William Bridgeo to further crunch the numbers on what it would cost to reinstitute a spring clean-up collection and include those costs as part of his annual city budget proposal so councilors could then weigh the costs of the program versus other funding priorities.

“I’m all for making it a budget line item for when the city manager does his budget in January, so, as it comes to us, at that point we debate it and weigh it against what it needs to be weighed against,” said At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau. “We all know the value of it. Nobody is debating if it is a good program to have if we can afford it. And I’m sure taxpayers would love to have a program where they could put their stuff out by the road once a year and have it hauled off for no charge other than their taxes. But I think, as we get into budget season and look at plowing and all of that, we can debate it against other issues as we try to figure out if it’s feasible.”

Bridgeo said he may not want to include the costs of such a collection in his actual proposed budget, but he could at least put together more detailed information on the cost of the proposal and include that information in his budget message, should councilors wish to include funding for it.

“I’d like a little latitude on that, because if it turns out other stuff I’m putting in my budget is building a tax increase, I’d like to not go too far over the top on a proposed tax increase, whether it is going to go through or not, because I think that stirs the community up,” Bridgeo said.

Bridgeo said he will work with Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, and refine the numbers.

Whatever it might cost, the service wouldn’t be ready this spring — it could happen as soon as spring 2017.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis noted the city’s fiscal year runs through June, so the budget through the spring season has already been approved, and it does not include any funding for a spring clean-up.

Jones said many years ago the city had both spring and fall clean-up programs offered to residents at no charge. She said there were “massive amounts of stuff on the streets and the city picked it all up for free.” She said public works crews would start at 7 a.m. and work until after dark for two or three weeks to collect it all.

She said that was when the city had a dump, not a shared landfill like it has now at Hatch Hill, so there was less cost to the city. She noted the city also had a lot more public works employees back then.

“You need to remember, we’ve reduced, in staffing, four to six people,” Jones said. “When (public works employees) are doing this cleanup work, they’re not doing other work.”

She said it could take employees’ time away from construction work, paving and other duties.

Bridgeo said the city could consider having the collection done by an outside contractor. That would still come with a cost, but wouldn’t tie up city public works crews.

Among their goals for this year, city councilors listed one subgoal under a general goal of continuing to enhance the appearance of the city: “In the upcoming budget process, consider cost options to reinstitute some form of cleanup day, where residents have the opportunity to dispose of junk that has accumulated in the part year.”

Jones said public works gets around 10 calls a year asking if there is going to be a spring cleanup. She said when city staff tell callers there will not be one, they give them other options such as local waste haulers who haul to Hatch Hill, or taking it to Hatch Hill themselves. She said residents can make three trips without a permit to Hatch Hill to dispose of items, though they are charged a weight-based tipping fee each trip.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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