BRATTLEBORO — Windham Solid Waste Management District is evaluating whether a fee-for-service revenue model could be worthwhile.
The decision comes after Brattleboro officials raised issues about paying assessment fees for recycling containers in addition to curbside recycling pick-up covered through municipal taxes. Of particular concern was the district's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget line item regarding the hauling of recyclables from those containers.
An emergency meeting was held by the district's finance committee on Dec. 3 to discuss proposed ideas with Brattleboro officials. The subject of the fee-for-service model was subsequently placed on Thursday's WSWMD Board of Supervisors meeting agenda.
"We came to a place of discussing ways to shift the cost center so that it's actually on a fee-for-service basis, so a town like Brattleboro that feels they don't want to pay for the Fairground Road boxes and Guilford, who doesn't have boxes, and maybe there are other towns that don't want roll-off recycling boxes, they wouldn't be paying for that cost," said WSWMD Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman Jan Ameen, noting that she had chaired the emergency meeting in place of Merrill Mundell who couldn't be there. "There is a budget that looks at no trucking and I think you're all welcome to look at it. It raises the assessment by $134,000. It was not what I think Brattleboro hoped for in eliminating the trucking, thinking it would be an overall reduction.
WSWMD Board of Supervisors approved the formation of a committee to explore the model after the WSWMD Finance Committee made the recommendation Thursday night. Findings are expected to be presented by July 1 in consideration of the district's FY18 budget.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Lou Bruso said the model could be applied to costs involved with recycling collection, where the recycling coordinator visited on a given day, percentage of residents disposing of hazardous waste and the general management budget.
"Looking at trying to apportion or budget by fee-for-service, can it be done? Sure. Do we need some time to figure it out? Yes. Is it going to be easy? Probably not," said Ameen. "Because it's not clean."
Current assessment formulas are based on census population data but other districts use different methods. And recycling containers are located in different towns, meaning residents may use another town's containers out of convenience.
Formation of the committee was looked at favorably by Brattleboro officials in attendance.
"I don't see any alternative to doing that," said David Schoales, member of the Brattleboro Selectboard and WSWMD Board of Supervisors. "The law has changed. The way that it's affected Brattleboro has changed."
Brattleboro Selectboard member and alternate WSWMD board member John Allen called for looking at all options.
"They should be looking at everything," he said.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said the idea was presented as a way to be collaborative and methodical about seeing whether the revenue model could work. Initially urging the district to act faster, he said there was "compelling testimony" indicating other towns could not move so quickly.
"It's not enough time to look at all the aspects of this. It's getting to be time to finalize a budget to send to (Annual) Town Meeting," Elwell said. "We get that."
While the future of continuing the district's materials recovery facility or MRF is still up in the air, Schoales said the revenue model should be looked at too.
Two budgets were provided to the Brattleboro Selectboard, one with the MRF and one without. The Selectboard had planned on discussing which budget to support with its six votes within the district but the costs related to recycling became a primary focus.
Brattleboro is the only member town with more than one vote besides Westminster, which has two. Seventeen other towns are members of the district. The budget is on Tuesday's Selectboard meeting agenda.