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New London council to vote on pay-per-bag trash program later this month

New London — City Council approval of a $92.99 million budget on Wednesday appeared to have set into motion the beginning of a pay-per-bag garbage disposal program in the city.

That notion alone was enough to move councilor Martin Olsen and at least one other councilor to vote against the general government budget.

“It was my way of expressing my protest,” Olsen said. “From what I’ve gleaned, this has been shoved down our throats without approval of the City Council.”

Councilor Michael Tranchida called it a hidden tax and a program doomed to fail.

But Mayor Michael Passero and Public Works Director Brian Sear said this week that the council will have an opportunity on June 18 to vote on the implementation of the program, which they say will save the city money and provide a more equitable way of charging for trash removal.

The council, which voted earlier this year to study the idea of the pay-as-you-throw program, is expected to vote on a city ordinance setting the parameters of the program and what is to be expected of residents. Sear said the council also will be asked to approve a contract with Waste Zero, the company contracted by the state to promote the program, to provide the yellow bags needed for waste to be picked up by the city.

The choice of Waste Zero was a no-bid process because the company is considered a sole source provider, Sear said.

The pay-as-you-throw program will mandate that residents pay up to $1 for a special yellow bag to dispose of their trash. The current 90-gallon containers that are used for trash and are picked up by the city will be converted into recycling bins. Bags will be left curbside for pickup.

The 2018-19 public works budget contains $250,000 — the first of five installments — toward the lease and eventual purchase of a new fleet of five trucks that will be used for both trash and recycling pickup.

Passero said the current larger trucks are at the end of their useful lives.

The overall aim of the program is to increase recycling, cut the amount of trash in half and reduce the cost to the city for disposal by a yearly amount of at least $600,000. Passero said it also will cut down on abuse of the current system.

The current trash-removal program is inequitable, Passero said, since taxpayers are subsidizing a system used by businesses, apartments owners and nonprofits alike. The larger and tax-exempt entities are spreading the higher cost of trash removal to taxpayers, he said.

“The (yellow) bags are the method of metering your waste,” Passero said. “You only have to pay for what you generate.”

A household will use one or two bags a week, Sear said.

Opponents of the plan envision garbage strewn about the city and an increase in illegal dumping, and they argue the fee for the bags is just another added tax.

John Phetteplace, Stonington’s solid waste director, said his town implemented the program in 1992 against the protests of people with similar fears — fears that never materialized.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and fear but for the most part, regardless of social-economic conditions, these programs work very, very well. All of the fear-based things just don’t happen,” he said.

He said that fact is demonstrated in many Massachusetts towns where the programs have been implemented. Pay-as-you-throw has caught on in Massachusetts faster than in Connecticut.

Sear said there is no timeline yet for the start of the program, since he waits for final council approval. He said the city plans to focus on a public awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of the program.

Olsen still contends the city administration failed in terms of properly vetting the program.

“If a study had been done and this report had been brought to the council, we could have asked questions in an open forum and given the public an opportunity to be informed and to comment,” Olsen said.

Sear said the study highlighting the benefits of the program is posted on the city’s website www.smarttrashnl.com. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also outlines the program on its website.

g.smith@theday.com

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