Vernon's pay as you throw trash switch goes smoothly
VERNON -- In what already has been a tumultuous year for Vernon, there were worries that this month's switch to a new, "pay as you throw" trash program would cause further problems.
"I really expected complaints, because we are used to doing things a certain way, and change is never easy," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said.
But she and other Selectboard members have been pleasantly surprised: Three weeks into a new system for collection of both garbage and recyclables, there have been few glitches and no major concerns.
"I am very, very proud of this town and the way that they've embraced this with open arms," O'Donnell said. "I really am not hearing any complaints."
Vermont's new waste-management regulations soon will make pay as you throw -- in which a resident's costs are based on the amount of trash generated -- mandatory statewide. But Vernon made the switch early in order to save money due to the pending closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
Previously, the town had been paying $135,000 to Triple T Trucking for curbside trash pickup, and residents were not billed directly for that service.
Under the new system, Triple T remains the town's hauler, but residents must buy special trash bags from the town. The cost is $2 for each 15-gallon bag and $3 for each 33-gallon bag.
Also, for the first time, there is curbside recycling collection in Vernon. Triple T is picking up recyclables in half the town each week.
There were many questions but few complaints at a well-attended public forum held prior to the switch. And after several weeks under the new system, O'Donnell said things are going smoothly.
"I think that there's probably been one or two houses that haven't gotten it yet," she said. "But for the most part, it seems to be going really well."
Officials cited a few minor issues: There had been a delay in getting Vernon trash bags to Guilford Country Store, which is one of the designated places to purchase the specially marked bags.
Also, Selectboard member Chris Howe said she has heard a few complaints that the larger bags were a bit "flimsy."
But overall, the system seems to be working well. O'Donnell noted that pay as you throw is supposed to increase recycling rates, and she has noticed that change in her own household.
"I don't have enough trash for the big bags (each week), and I'm shocked by that," she said.
"It's been a huge learning process for us," she added. "What I've noticed is, kids have really taken off with it ... look at the lessons we're teaching our kids. That's fantastic."
A volunteer Vernon Recycling Committee, which put together the new pay as you throw program in just a few months' time, continues to work behind the scenes, O'Donnell said.
Officials also are planning to host a follow-up public forum on pay as you throw. A date has not yet been set, but the meeting may be held in September.
O'Donnell said she wants to talk with residents about any adjustments that might be necessary.
"Do you have questions now that we've started pay as you throw?" she said. "What are suggestions that you might have to make it easier for everybody?"
In other town business:
-- O'Donnell said she has "gotten a whole lot of compliments" on Windham County Sheriff's Department patrolling the town.
The department took over law enforcement in Vernon when the new fiscal year began July 1. Voters decided earlier this year to disband the municipal police department and sign a $231,624 contract with the sheriff's department for 24/7 coverage.
Lt. Mark Anderson is leading the sheriff's new Vernon Division.
-- Selectboard members decided to not join the ranks of Vermont towns that are taking down municipal websites in response to the state's new open-meeting law.
One provision in particular -- a requirement that meeting agendas and minutes be posted online in a timely manner for every governmental body and committee -- has worried some officials. Locally, Jamaica and Townshend have disabled their websites.
While Vernon officials have expressed concerns about the law, Selectboard members this week said they would seek ways to more-easily modify the town website rather than taking it down.
"Let's give it a little bit of time to work with it, because it is an asset," O'Donnell said of the website. "And every single thing that we can do to make sure that the public is informed on what's going on in this town, I think that is a really good thing."
-- The Selectboard delayed seeking proposals for outside auditing services, with at least one member asking for more time to review the requirements for such services.
As part of the town's spending cuts, the budget for Vernon's elected auditors has been reduced in favor of hiring an outside auditing firm. It will be up to the Selectboard to hire that firm.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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