Montville holds off implementing new trash program

Montville — Facing criticism and threats of a referendum, the Town Council on Monday night put the brakes on a proposed solid waste program designed to boost recycling, reduce trash and save on transfer station expenses.

In place in Stonington for more than 20 years, pay-as-you-throw has sparked controversy in New London and now Montville. Proponents say it's a proactive measure to inspire more recycling, prevent abuse of transfer station policies and align the town with the state's environmental goals. Opponents call the idea a tax on residents who follow the rules.

Both sides agreed Monday that the town must discuss the matter further, with councilors calling off a vote until a thorough review is done by the Public Works/Solid Waste Committee and more public hearings.

"We've obviously done a very bad job of getting the information out there, because there's so many questions and statements people are making that aren't true," said Town Council Chairman Tom McNally. "We'll do a better job advertising it and have another hearing on it so people can have feedback and answers they desire."

Resident Kristen Forde was among several calling for more education on the issue, including hearings and information posted at the transfer station.

"If you really believe ... that every reasonable effort was made to reach all the residents of Montville to hear feedback, not on Facebook but in a face-to-face encounter, then let's do it," she said, arguing the town would "have to pay for a referendum" if it voted in favor of the program before more planning and public debate.

The town currently does not have residential or commercial garbage pickup. Residents either bring their trash to the transfer station or pay a private hauler to pick it up. Every two weeks the town does pick up recyclable items.  

The program under consideration would see 50 free bags given to residents when they pay their annual $55 transfer station sticker fee. Residents could purchase additional 30- or 15-gallon bags at local shops as needed, at $2 or $1.25, respectively. Whether residents will be given free 15- or 30-gallon bags remains to be decided.

The program would not impact the town's processes for residential recycling or bulky waste. Those who use private haulers for trash pickup would not have to use the bags. But residents who have someone they know with a sticker bring their trash to the transfer station for them would have to use the town-issued bags under the program, officials said.

McNally said over the last six months the town has examined several options to prevent this so-called "piggybacking" — residents taking advantage of the current system to avoid paying the sticker fee — such as limiting the number of bags one person can deposit at the transfer station and increasing fees.

"Every one of those was met with resistance," McNally said, either due to the manpower or time involved or the desire to keep fees reasonable for residents on limited and fixed incomes.

Echoing comments made last week by residents unconvinced they could fit all their weekly trash in a single bag, resident Tim May called the program a tax that "affects large families and folks on fixed incomes the most."

For Councilor Joe Rogulski, the program was "not about taxing ... or anything to do with finances" but rather being "proactive instead of reactive."

"This is about what the state of Connecticut wants us to do, and being a little more responsible and better recyclers," he said.

East Lyme eliminated a pay-per-bag system in 1998, which led to a dropoff in recycling, officials said when initiating a recycling program there more than 10 years ago.

Waste Zero, a state-hired consultant promoting the SMART (Save Money and Reduce Trash) pay-as-you-throw program, says average households in New England towns and cities only need about one trash bag per week. Proponents say once residents get accustomed to being careful about what they toss in the trash, the transfer station will see fewer clothes, small electronics and recyclables. The overall waste reductions could save about $40,000 in transfer station expenses, officials said.

Advocates also say the system is fairer across the tax base, as 69 percent of transfer station costs are covered by general taxes, yet only about a third of Montville residents actively use the service.

Councilor Joe Jaskiewicz called for greater enforcement of existing rules as opposed to pay-as-you-throw.

"Across this country, a certain amount of people gets away with stuff, and who gets punished? The people who follow the rules," he said. "You're going to make people pay for bags because you see people coming in with a lot of bags and don't do a darn thing about it."

Councilor Wills Pike said in addition to reviewing pay-as-you-throw, councilors would re-examine town's solid waste ordinance that's only been updated a couple times since its passage in 1989.

The Public Works/Solid Waste Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, at Town Hall Room 102.

b.kail@theday.com

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