Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The Sandwich board of selectmen has been mulling over the idea of pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) for a year now. A decision may be coming soon; or maybe not. It’s hard to tell. (Vote on PAYT at the right.)
What is it?
PAYT is a system where recycling is free, but non-recycled items are “metered” via an imposed per bag fee. Pick a price, say $2 for a 30-gallon bag. You would purchased these bags in the grocery or hardware store. In this example, a sleeve of ten bags would cost $20. To prevent counterfeiting, the bags would have the town’s logo printed on them and they would be some color that is not generally available, purple for example.
Mary and I go through a couple of 30-gallon bags a week now, but when pushed to recycled all of our paper, glass, corrugated, plastic, Styrofoam, etc., we could easily knock that down to one bag per week.
We should be doing that now, right? “Yes,” I say with an embarrassed tone, but there’s nothing like paying by the bag that will catch people’s attention. In fact, one of the PAYT bag vendors says that communities increase their recycling rates by nearly double when this program is put in place.
In addition to the bag fee, which is generally used to offset the variable costs of disposing of the trash, a sticker fee is imposed to cover the fixed costs of the operation.
Why consider it?
All of our
Cape Cod towns are facing a huge increase in “tipping fees” when our current contracts expire. In Sandwich, that would be 2015. We expect to start paying more than double (some say close to triple) the current tipping fee. So the first reason for considering PAYT is to save money (and the environment) by recycling more, thus reducing the tonnage going to SEMASS in or the Bourne dump. Rochester
There is also an equity factor here. An 80-year-old woman who generates a 30-gallon bag of trash over a two-week period might live next door to a family of six, which generates five 30-gallon bags of trash per week. She and that family of six both pay the exact same $110 to use the Sandwich transfer station each year.
Using my numbers and assuming a $50 sticker fee, the 80-year-old woman would pay $50 plus 26 times $2/bag, or $102 per year. The family of six would pay $50 plus 52 times 5 times $2/bag, or $570 per year. I would bet that the family of six would work especially hard to double their recycling efforts and save half of that $520 bag cost. Of course, if they don’t, that’s their choice, but they’ll pay a fair amount for the disposal of their trash.
What did Mashpee do?
The select board in Mashpee decided to put a referendum question on their May 2011 ballot. Bad idea, in my opinion. I predict that people will vote against it. If you pose the question to someone without spending five minutes explaining the whys and hows, chances are they’ll react negatively to PAYT, especially in the privacy of the voting booth.
If the select board makes a decision soon, say by March, a PAYT system can be in place by July 1st. Our town manager has suggested that our $110 transfer station sticker would then be valid all the way out to June 30, 2012. A new price would then be set for an annual sticker that runs from July 1st to June 30th. This is necessary because the transfer station fees and expenses will be put into an enterprise account that must run on a fiscal year ending June 30th.
The $800,000 question becomes:
How much of the cost of running the transfer station will be picked up by the new sticker and bag fees? Currently, about half of the cost is recovered by sticker fees. That leaves somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000 covered by the general tax revenue.
If the board of selectmen chose to cover all of the transfer station costs with the PAYT system revenues, some would argue that it would be a “backdoor override,” meaning that a vote to override Proposition 2½ would not be necessary because the increase would fall in the category of fees, not property taxes.
What would you do?
Given the choice of PAYT, a private trash service, or the prospect of closing the transfer station if an override in 2014 for FY2015 doesn’t pass, what would you choose? Or perhaps there are other options?