Presque Isle approves new trash program

Posted Dec. 03, 2010, at 9:28 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:44 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City officials are hopeful a new program approved by the City Council this week will encourage residents who use the landfill and transfer station to increase their recycling efforts.

After three hours of discussion Monday on aspects of the 2011 municipal budget, councilors agreed unanimously to set in motion a “pay as you throw” trash program, which will go into effect by spring.

Under the plan, the city will contract with two local haulers — Gil’s Sanitation and Star City Sanitation — for curbside removal of residential garbage and recyclable material. The city will be divided up between the two businesses, each getting half of the residential customers.

City Manager Jim Bennett went over changes he proposed to the way the city handles trash destined for the dump. He said something needed to be done to prevent the need for increasing property taxes and to extend the life of the landfill.

“We’re looking at going to $90 a ton [up from $32.50 a ton in the 2010 budget] for the tipping fee for haulers under the proposed pay-per-bag program,” he said.

Under the new program, residents would be charged $3.05 per large bag and $1.45 per small bag for each bag at curbside, with recycled items removed for free. Bags will be sold at local businesses and must be used by everyone who puts trash at the curb.

Bennett indicated that under pay-as-you-throw, property taxes would not go up.

Solid Waste Director Dana Fowler said city officials hope the new plan will save money in the long run.

“If you can extend the life of the landfill, it could reduce the annual percentage set aside for closure of the landfill,” said Fowler.

Councilor Don Gardner questioned the proposed closing of the transfer station on Saturdays.

Bennett said the recycling center would remain open from Monday to Friday, but the decision to close on Saturday would save an estimated $10,000 in wages and other costs. He said he would work with Fowler to address Gardner’s concern and see what could be done to keep the facility open at least one Saturday a month. Councilor Mel Hovey offered a possible option of closing one day during the week and keeping Saturday hours, thus maintaining the five-day workweek and the overall cost of operation.

Councilors discussed “midnight dumping” that may occur during the transition period. Bennett indicated the council could enact an ordinance to address illegal disposal of garbage on another’s property. Councilor Emily Smith questioned how effective an ordinance would be if the person dumping illegally couldn’t be identified.

Efforts to increase recycling will continue, said Fowler, with the city distributing free blue recycle bags, with free curbside pickup.

“Haulers will continue to pick up recyclables at curbside, with paper products going in one bag, and plastics and aluminum-metals in a second. You can’t mix papers and plastics,” said Fowler, explaining that the city sells recyclable items, and clean paper brings a higher price in the market.

The only problem Fowler noted is that glass will not be recycled curbside.

“To recycle glass, people will have to take it to the transfer station,” he said.

“We need to focus on recycling education efforts as well. I cut my trash in half by recycling. This will force people to do it,” said Smith.

While the process is said to benefit residents, Smith expressed concern over other entities and how the change will affect them.

“The bigger issue here, a lot of businesses in town have said this increase will be really difficult with them. I spoke with the Housing Authority recently. They expect difficulties teaching tenants to recycle more,” said Smith. “The Housing Authority can’t assess increases in rent to tenants without going through a three- or four-month process.”

Bennett said the program is designed to include taxable and tax-exempt properties.

“We have 816 properties identified as commercial in the city. Under this plan, that means about a $518 tax increase to them. The total value of tax-exempt property is over $100 million. The total value of commercial is $250 million,” said Bennett, indicating the program will make those using the landfill pay their fair share.

The 2010 Solid Waste Department budget totaled just over $895,615 in taxes needed to cover department expenses. Under pay-as-you-throw, no taxes will be needed for solid waste in 2011, with budget expenses covered by increased tipping fees, purchase of required bags, and per-use fees at the landfill rising from $14 to $26. The garbage truck will be eliminated at the transfer station, with the center accepting recyclable items effective in March.

Bennett said the plan was worth a try and that councilors could change the program should they determine it isn’t in the best interest of the communities the landfill serves.

Councilors approved the new plan, scheduled to take effect March 1, 2011, for everything but the commercial side, with that portion going into effect April 1.

The City Council will meet on Monday, Dec. 6, at City Hall.

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