Pay-per-bag trial offered

BAR HARBOR — The town council is set to decide April 19 whether to institute a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) system for residential and commercial garbage on a six-month trial basis. The decision will be made following a public comment period at that same April meeting.

Under the PAYT system presented to the council by national firm WasteZero last year, residents would be required to purchase special garbage bags at local businesses. Commercial haulers would pay a tipping fee based on weight.

Councilors voted Tuesday to instruct town staff to further develop a trial program, including a plan for how to weigh commercial or other non-bagged trash at the transfer station.

Councilor Burt Barker called the vote “weakly unanimous” because some councilors did not want to move forward with the plan but supported hearing from the public on the issue.

It’s unclear whether the April vote will preempt a plan to put PAYT to a non-binding straw vote at this year’s town meeting.

Councilor Gary Friedmann proposed the six-month trial, beginning in November and ending with a vote at the June 2017 town meeting on whether or not to continue with the system. He said savings to the town from reduced waste and revenue from selling bags and charging tipping fees could pay for the costs of setting up the trial system, because it’s not included in the budget for fiscal year 2017.

“It’s the only fair way to do this,” he said, arguing voters would be able to make a more informed decision on the program after the trial period. “No one’s going to know how the system works until we try it.”

Councilor Clark Stivers compared the project to recent conversations about a town broadband internet initiative. “Support has grown because people are talking about it,” he said. “It’s better to start educating people with something in the distance that you’re moving toward” rather than ask for an up-or-down vote on a vague concept.

Public Works Director Chip Reeves and Finance Director Stan Harmon presented estimates of the fiscal impact of a PAYT system given current trash amounts, recycling rates, etc. They calculated that a resident with a median-valued home worth $296,800 theoretically could see a reduction in their taxes of $98 but spend $125 per year purchasing the bags required to dispose of residential trash.

Friedmann presented a separate projection, concluding a slightly larger tax reduction could be achieved.

Reeves proposed charging $95 per ton for commercial waste, less than the $150 proposed by WasteZero and a little below current market rate tip fees in the area, he said. “At $150, you would probably force commercial waste out of your system.” He said he and Harmon discussed how a vehicle registration and billing system would work for commercial trash, which would be defined as anything not in the designated PAYT bags.

“If you chose not to get bags, you’d have to register your vehicle at finance and get weighed.” For the last 10 years, the town has recycled between 12 and 16 percent of its waste by tonnage, he said.

Council Chair Paul Paradis said he was concerned that during the trial period, the town would be “double charging” for trash – residents would be paying for the existing no-charge system in their taxes while also paying for bags and/or tipping fees.

He also pointed to an upcoming master plan project for the town transfer station. “If you build anything now, it’s probably going to have to be undone when we do the master plan,” he said, adding “I hope it goes through in the long term.”

A few residents addressed the council about the proposal Tuesday, but Councilors David Bowden and Peter St. Germain said they thought it was unfair to take comment for or against when a public hearing had not been advertised and primarily supporters were in attendance.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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