Windham Solid Waste Management District at 'a crossroads'
BRATTLEBORO — Windham Solid Waste Management District is at a crossroads, or so says its executive director, Bob Spencer.
"Do we continue to run a dual stream materials-recovery facility against the world's desire to go single stream?" Spencer said during an interview Thursday. "Or do we close the MRF and then the private sector takes over collection of recycling materials?"
These are questions that come up as revenue for the district continues to drop. A budget gets prepared by the district now so towns in the district can plan their own financing around it.
In fiscal year 2012, the district took in $803,703 in revenue. The figure was reduced to $536,944 in FY13 then $549,893 in FY14 and $467,598 in FY15. A revenue of $442,598 was reported in the latest fiscal year.
"We've lost a significant amount of tonnage," Spencer said, pointing out local towns that have changed the way they handle recycling.
Single stream recycling started in Vernon and Westminster two years ago when Act 148 required recycling for haulers. Their reasoning for going with single stream rather than dual stream, according to Spencer, had to do with money. The difference between the two ways of recycling meant roughly $8,000 of annual savings for Vernon.
This year, Stratton joined those two towns. All three are still in the district. And Vernon and Westminster continue to have dual stream collection bins from the district in their communities.
Hinsdale, N.H., was never a member of the district. But the town had its recycling processed at the district's facility in Brattleboro up until 2014. Hinsdale went to single stream recycling with curbside pickup.
That same year, Guilford decided to no longer host the district's bins. Although residents there can still drop off recycling at bins in other towns, the lack of bins is considered a contributing factor in the district's loss of tonnage over the years.
Winhall voted in August to leave the district. In a 174-9 vote, the town overwhelmingly supported its departure, which will take effect in July.
The action is not expected to have a negative effect on WSWMD. The district loses about $7,000 a year on shipping materials from Winhall, according to Spencer. And having picked up Somerset, the district will continue to have a 19-member makeup.
The district's decision to suspend recycling items with labels three to seven was cited by Winhall Select Board Chairman E. Stuart Coleman.
"I know the value's dropped but there's got to be some market for it," Coleman said, noting that over 50 percent of the tonnage picked up from Winhall is recycling. "We have to take that stuff and now we have to tell the people to throw it into the garbage but throw it into a bag first because of new state regulations."
The town of Winhall is now entering into an agreement with TAM Waste Management for hauling.
The recyclable items marked three through seven were previously accepted at the district. Officials thought by collecting all recycling, they might get more of the valuable ones — the items with symbols one and two. However, a lack of market for them drove the district to implement the change back to collecting only ones and twos again. The hope had been to reduce costs.
"We're now saying put them in the landfill or we don't take them," said Spencer. "But we still get them because people are putting them in the boxes and the town of Brattleboro refused to tell their residents to not recycle three through sevens."
Brattleboro recycling is not collected by the district as the town offers curbside collection. But people use the district's drop-off bins in town. The three through seven items are then sorted and thrown away at the district's facility, which Spencer says increases labor costs at the district.
WSWMD is in "a very difficult spot right now," he said. Last year saw no surplus in revenue that could be applied to the towns' assessments and this year will be no different. Staffing was reducing last year to assist with budgetary pressures.
"When we finished our last fiscal year, we came in 1 percent under our budget for expenses here so we managed our expenses on a budget that was built 18 months ahead of the year. We're working on a budget now that will start in July 2017 and go until June 2018," Spencer said. "You try to budget and you can't control the commodity market. These markets are worldwide."
The district's finance committee will meet again on Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. The Board of Supervisors will discuss the budget later that evening.
One version looks at maintaining everything the district offers as is. This budget contains a slight increase over the previous year. But it's "very close" to last year's assessment, Spencer said.
The second version would close down the district's MRF, and stop its pickup of trash and recycling. A reduction of approximately 20 percent would be anticipated with this budget. The Board of Supervisors rejected this type of budgeting plan in last year's talks.
One of three budgets was already eliminated on Sept. 28. The finance committee has decided against presenting the budget that would cut out the MRF, trucking, convenience center, transfer station, composting, and paint and electronics collections. With none of those services, Spencer said the district would then become more of an administrative agency running various programs required by the state. Only a few employees would be needed.
Trashing that version of the budget had to do with the convenience center making money and the necessity of the services. People purchase stickers, then can get rid of their garbage and recycling there.
"Our fees are higher than our costs. It's actually a profit center plus it's something people need," said Spencer.
Also coming up on Oct. 13 is an analysis of how assessments could be changed. The idea had been proposed by Brattleboro officials during budget talks last year.
Currently, population dictates the cost for each town. Calculations have been devised that look at grand lists, a 50/50 combination of population and grand lists, and a 75/25 combination of population and grand list. Another one looks at housing units.
"The issue with the current assessment is towns that have high seasonal populations, basically the resort towns, they are probably not paying their share of the recycling cost," Spencer said. "Winhall goes to 20,000 for people at Christmas."
The district's charter includes no mention of how an assessment must be developed so the board is free to change it.
Although the budgets being mulled over now do not include a solar project being planned at the closed and capped landfill on the district's property in Brattleboro, the solar array is expected to bring in over $100,000 a year to the district through a lease. Member towns are being invited to purchase net metering credits associated with the project.
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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