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New London to take a step back, look at trash options

New London — Implementation of a controversial pay-as-you-throw trash disposal program is on the back burner for the time being, as the City Council considers alternatives.

The council may pitch the idea of forming a special trash task force for an objective evaluation of recycling and waste management techniques “based on efficiencies and costs and what would be the best for the community,” said Councilor Martin Olsen, chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee.

“A key component of this is ... it is not an evaluation of one program,” Olsen said. “It’s got to be a program the community is going to support.”

Olsen said he was again prepared to voice his opposition to the program if it had come up for a vote at Monday’s council meeting. It didn’t. Instead, the council voted to move the issue into the Public Works and Finance committees.

Mayor Michael Passero had recommended the move and attributed the loud public opposition to the program to a lack of education of the issue. He remains steadfast in his belief that the program is the only feasible way to curb rising waste disposal costs and more equitably distribute the tax burden for the trash pickup service the city provides.

Under the program, the city would mandate that homeowners, renters, businesses and nonprofits alike place municipal waste in special 33-gallon bags at a cost of $1 each. Households would be expected to use an average of one large bag per week. The city was considering converting its 90-gallon trash bins into containers for recyclables.

An analysis by Waste Zero, the company contracted by the state to hold informational meetings across the state, predicts the city could double its 18 percent recycling rate. Waste Zero is also the vendor for the trash bags and provided services to the city thanks to $52,000 in grants from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The projected increase in recycling significantly would reduce the waste disposal cost. Savings of $265,000 in disposal costs coupled with $350,000 in bag revenue was included in the city’s approved budget.

Inclusion of the program in the budget, however, was frequently cited as a reason people signed a successful petition calling for either a reduction of the budget or a citywide referendum.

The city’s solid waste and recycling division of the Public Works Department had an approved budget of about $2.5 million this year and includes $250,000 for the lease of five new trash-hauling vehicles. The division hauls trash and recyclables weekly for residents and twice a week for the downtown area and commercial customers.

On Thursday, Passero said he still is working with the finance director and department heads to revise a budget to present to the council’s Finance Committee on Monday.

Passero said finding additional savings in the $49.86 million general government budget, which is a 3.16 percent increase from last year's spending, has not been easy but he hoped to achieve the feat without loss of any additional city personnel. He said cuts would come from every department.

Council President Pro Tempore Don Venditto said that with the city administration’s backing of the pay-as-you-throw program, it would be up to the council to explore other options, such as contracting an outside hauler.

“We’re going to do our diligence and investigate options beyond the PAYT program,” Venditto said.

The pay-as-you-throw, or SMART (Save Money And Reduce Trash) program, is used in some form in multiple Connecticut municipalities but only a handful with curbside pickup.

Passero said he encourages the creation of a taskforce but thinks the results of studying options is likely to lead to the conclusion that the SMART program is the best option.

g.smith@theday.com

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