Brattleboro board questions Windham Solid Waste budget

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BRATTLEBORO — Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein wants answers regarding why the town is being "double billed" for recycling.

"All of Brattleboro's recycling collection should be covered for collection either through our municipally paid-for program or through commercial haulers that service the community. I want to understand why the town of Brattleboro should be paying $50,000 to the Windham Solid Waste Management District for a recycling collection program that I don't believe serves the interest of the town of Brattleboro at all," Gartenstein said at a Selectboard meeting Tuesday night. "We're already paying for it out of the budget."

Similar concerns over WSWMD's budget were expressed by Gartenstein last year and his questions were still not answered, he said while suggesting the possibility of recommending that the town vote against the budget. Moving to a fee-for-service budget was mentioned as a way to alleviate the issue.

Continuing with dual stream recycling at the WSWMD facility on Fairground Road or having recyclables hauled to another facility was supposed to be the question that will affect how Brattleboro's six votes at the waste management district make their decision on the budget.

Originally, the Selectboard intended to discuss whether those votes should support a budget with or without the district's materials recovery facility or MRF and its recycling collection programs.

"We think it warrants more examination," said Town Manager Peter Elwell after receiving "late breaking news" that likely would have changed his recommendation for using those votes to approve a budget that discontinues the MRF and have Brattleboro go to single-stream recycling.

A Nov. 10 budget updated two days later "reflected some increased costs" in operating the facility, which upped Brattleboro and other municipalities' assessments, according to Elwell. The estimated savings for doing away with the MRF were then reduced to an amount that "appears to be a wash."

The assessment went from being $105,814 to $123,366 with no explanation, said Gartenstein, who wants town administration to review the change.

WSWMD Board of Supervisors Chairman Lou Bruso, who also represents Jamaica, said the district created a more realistic budget which contained decreased revenues and a reduction in staff.

"We changed our operation at the MRF right now to operate on 2016 budget numbers, not 2015 budget numbers," he said. "We're going to see if we can actually operate at the level we're proposing. We reduced our budget by 11.5 percent. We're going to see during the next year if we can actually operate at those levels or not. If it turns out at the end of this year that we can't operate at those levels then I would say that we should be taking a hard look at whether we should go to single stream, not waiting for 2017 budget but doing it in the 2016 budget."

WSWMD Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman Jan Ameen, who also represents Westminster, said in going through a budget with no MRF a second time, there were costs associated with maintaining the MRF although it would no longer operate. Also accounted for were reducing both hours and trash tips.

The new budget was to be sent to towns. Brattleboro has six votes while Westminster has two. The other 17 municipalities only have one each.

"I think it was just purely a situation of that new budget not getting to the town," Ameen said regarding the quick change in assessments.

Many Brattleboro residents choose not to put recyclables at the curb, she said.

"So you are paying twice because we're serving your residents," she added.

"We don't want to pay twice. We want those containers removed," Gartenstein said. "We don't want to pay for them and we want your program to change to make us not pay for them anymore."

A public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at the WSWMD office at 327 Old Ferry Road.

Curbside trash pick-up was another topic brought up Tuesday. Going from every week to every other week is expected to save money. But Brattleboro Selectboard members worry about citizens dealing with another big change so soon after implementing Pay-As-You-Throw mandates earlier than required by new state laws.

"I think it's important that we make sure people are comfortable with the every other week pick-up," said Selectboard member Kate O'Connor.

The contractual change with Brattleboro's trash hauler Triple T Trucking could save taxpayers over $96,000. Compost and recyclables would still be collected every week.

To see the tax benefit in fiscal year 2017, action would be required soon. The topic will be addressed again at the Dec. 15 Selectboard meeting.

"We believe it would be relatively easy for the community to make this behavior change that will be required in order for this to succeed," said Elwell, noting that the volume of trash has reduced as recycling and compost is separated from it. "What's in the garbage, part of the waste stream now, tends to be cleaner, mostly plastics, mostly not including food stuff that rots. So it has less potential to become smelly or a health hazard if it has to sit for an extra week on somebody's property before it has to go out to the curb."

Over the last few years, the amount of collected rubbish has reduced by approximately half. And compost collection has just about doubled. The town's data compares averages found in July to October 2015 to those recorded in July to October in 2013 and 2014.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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