Waste district raises towns' fees
BRATTLEBORO -- The cost of recycling is going up in 19 area towns.
The board of Windham Solid Waste Management District, which sorts and resells recyclables gathered in the region, has approved a budget that raises assessments in each member town by 9 percent for next fiscal year.
Officials blame the rate hike largely on a stagnant market for recyclables. And Executive Director Bob Spencer warned that there is no way to tell for sure whether the district's diminished revenue projections will turn out to be accurate.
"We believe they're conservative, but the wild card is what happens on the world economic stage," Spencer said. "If the economy improves, it will be better."
Collected recyclables arrive regularly at the management district's Old Ferry Road headquarters in Brattleboro. But officials say the amount of such material is declining, as are the revenues the district receives from the resale of recyclables.
When that market is strong -- as it was in fiscal 2012, when the district reaped $760,231 from recyclable sales -- member towns don't have to pay as much to subsidize the district's operations.
For instance, the strong showing in fiscal 2012 led the district's board to reduce towns' assessments by 5.6 percent.
But the market has soured since, with the values of plastics, metals and paper all taking a hit to varying degrees. Paper has seen the biggest drop.
As a result, district officials say they have been forced to raise town assessments, which are based on each municipality's population.
For fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, each town's assessment will rise by 9.1 percent. Brattleboro, which pays the most, will see its cost rise from $144,548 to $157,641.
The next-highest assessment belongs to Westminster, where the district's fee rises from $38,135 to $41,589.
At the bottom of the assessment list is Stratton, rising from $2,592 to $2,827.
On Thursday night, the district's board of supervisors -- made up of representatives from each member town -- voted to approve the fiscal 2015 budget including the assessment increase.
Officials had unveiled the proposed budget in early December and held a public hearing later that month. No one attended that hearing, and the budget remained unchanged.
"There were no comments from the public that would have necessitated changes," Spencer said.
He noted, however, that Brattleboro officials have questioned the district's costs and services. Spencer said he met with several representatives of the town and will be giving them "a full economic analysis" detailing the district's benefits to Brattleboro.
"I thought it was a really good start," Spencer said of the meeting.
Of the 12 Windham Solid Waste board members casting votes Thursday, Guilford representative Cheryl Franklin was the lone vote against the fiscal 2015 budget.
Franklin said she believes the district's convenience-center fees -- disposal charges at the Windham Solid Waste facility -- should have risen in order to lessen the financial pressure on member towns.
Instead, Franklin said, the district's minimum charge actually decreased.
"I just thought that was the wrong direction to go in light of the fact that the towns were being asked for an increase in their assessment," she said.
Raising fees "wouldn't have made a big difference in the budget," Franklin added. "But it's the principle of the thing."
The district's board did alleviate the impact on towns by borrowing $50,000 from a landfill post-closure fund and applying that cash to the fiscal 2015 budget.
And officials say they are examining ways to boost revenue in ways both large and small. For instance, prior to Thursday's vote, Brattleboro representative Dora Bouboulis said there should be ways to capitalize on aluminum foil that currently is sent to landfills.
"People throw out large quantities of aluminum foil," Bouboulis said. "I do think that is a revenue source and should come out of the waste stream."
Act 148, a state law aimed at boosting recycling rates through incremental mandates, soon may bring more recyclables to Windham Solid Waste's door. But it also will change the way the district does business in ways that are still not clear.
Asked about the district's financial future, board Chairman Lou Bruso -- a Jamaica representative -- said the new law may change everything.
"It's hard to predict what the budget will be because of Act 148," Bruso said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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