Hartford Might Cut Recycling; Private Haulers Offer Same Service

Published: 8/8/2016 12:34:33 PM
Modified: 1/13/2015 12:00:00 AM
Hartford — A state law that was passed to encourage universal recycling could have the opposite of its intended effect in Hartford, where town leaders are seeking to scuttle the town’s curbside recycling program.

Because Vermont’s Act 148 requires trash haulers to accept recyclables beginning this July, Selectboard Co-chairman Ken Parker said the town could save taxpayers $180,000 by pulling back, leaving private haulers to step in and fill the void.

“There comes a point in time where we have to say, you’re going to pay for this on your own,” he said.

Selectman Simon Dennis, however, said eliminating municipal curbside recycling pickup would be bad for residents, because private haulers would respond to the town’s move by increasing rates .

“We would effectively drive the cost of living in Hartford up,” he said.

A municipal budget proposed by Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg currently being reviewed by the Selectboard does not include any funding for curbside recycling.

Tonight, Selectboard members will discuss the issue during a budget workshop; they are expected to decide what to present to voters during the annual Town Meeting in March.

Parker said he supports the concept of recycling, but not a town-wide program to pay for it.

Parker said fewer than half of the town’s roughly 4,600 households have taken advantage of curbside recycling, which means that the majority of residents are subsidizing a service they don’t use.

In the past, the program has been carried out by Casella Waste Systems, which charged the town $150,000. This year, Casella has upped its price to $180,000.

Trimming that amount from the municipal budget, which is under pressure from many competing demands, was appealing to town leaders.

The $180,000 represents a tax impact of about 1.28 cents per $100 in assessed property value, the equivalent of $32 on a tax bill for a $250,000 home.

That’s the cost of keeping the program.

But eliminating the program has costs too, likely in the form of increased rates from private trash haulers.

Beth Ann Searles, who founded More Waste Solutions with her husband five years ago, makes a living by collecting the trash of about 100 Hartford households, with a couple of hundred more customers in Sharon, Pomfret, Hanover and Norwich.

Searles said that if the town doesn’t provide curbside pickup, she would increase her rates to residential customers. Right now, depending on the service, most pay between $20 and $40 per month; adding recycling to the mix would result in an increase of $6 to $10 per month, she said.

Dennis said he doesn’t expect the board to put the $180,000 back in the budget, but that he would like to see Town Meeting voters given the option to preserve the program by adding that amount into the budget.

Dennis said that if the popular curbside recycling program is ended, he expects people will be upset.

“If you get rid of it,” he said, “I would say there would be a strong reaction.”

Parker said that he does not favor putting the issue before voters during Town Meeting.

“My concern is that there needs to be a good education effort if we’re going to have a public vote so that people can understand the benefits and the costs,” Parker said. “My concern is that you may get a really significant outpouring of people from one side or another. I think we need to hear from people on both sides of the issue.”

The curbside recycling program has been in place for at least 15 years; over that time, Hartford has landed ahead of the curve in terms of recycling rates. The statewide recycling rate is estimated at 36 percent, but in Hartford, the rate has been higher, recently estimated at about 45 percent.

Right now, about one in five residents don’t use any private hauler at all. Rather than pay for the service, they drive their trash directly to the transfer station themselves.

Transfer station users have to pay $20 for a one-year residential permit, which includes all recyclables.

The town doesn’t require individuals to sort their recyclables, because Casella is part of a single-stream program. But Dennis said that if people are forced to sort their recyclables for the individual haulers, they might be less likely to participate.

Searles said she has heard the same.

“Customers have told us that if Hartford was to get rid of curbside, they would just put their recycling in the trash,” Searles said.

That is a cause for concern, according to Todd Allen, chairman of the town’s Solid Waste Committee, which was formed in 2013 to help formulate a response to Act 148.

The committee voted in December to advise the Selectboard to send recycling issues to Town Meeting for a public vote.

“We think that probably, if it goes to private haulers, recycling progress will step back,” said Allen.

Allen said that on a per-household basis, it’s more cost-effective for the town to provide the service.

“We’re asking the town to go one more year, and let’s see how it goes,” Allen said.

Parker said the rate of recycling might dip temporarily, but he believes it will rebound, as Act 148 takes effect and societal norms continue to shift in favor of more recycling.

If the town were to maintain its curbside program, everyone assumes recycling rates will go up under the new state mandate, but no one knows by how much.

Another unknown is whether there’s a point at which Casella, which currently handles the town’s curbside recycling, would significantly increase its rates to pay for the increased usage.

Attempts to contact Casella were unsuccessful.

One way or another, Parker said, Hartford residents will pay to get rid of their recyclable materials.

“It’s like punching a pillow,” he said. “You give it all you’ve got, and it just pops up somewhere else.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.




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