Claremont moves forward on transferring transfer station to private control

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 07-15-2022 1:43 PM

CLAREMONT — After hearing residents speak for and against privatizing the city’s transfer station, the City Council voted, 5-4, on Wednesday to authorize interim City Manager John Bohenko to begin negotiations with DeCamp Waste Services to operate the facility.

As part of the vote, a finalized contract with Claremont-based DeCamp will need council approval, similar to what is required for union contracts.

Assistant Mayor Deb Matteau, who supported the move to privatization, promised residents it would be a “carefully worded contract” to protect the city’s interests and could be revisited if it is not working.

“The services delivered could turn out to be better,” she said. “Let’s give it a try.”

Before the council’s vote on Wednesday, several residents spoke about DeCamp’s proposal to take over the operation, which currently is subsidized by tax dollars each year.

Several councilors have spoken frequently against the subsidy, arguing that taxpayers should not subsidize a facility used by only several hundred people each year. Those complaints led to a vote to seek proposals from private trash companies.

Opponents of the plan thought the council was rushing the process and suggested holding more public forums to allow residents to weigh in and perhaps propose something different to keep it a city-run operation. There was also concern about price increases by DeCamp that the city could not control.

“What is the rush to privatize?” asked resident Chip Laury, who suggested tabling the issue. “I don’t believe privatizing the transfer station is in the best interests of the taxpayer. It is the first step to closing. In my view, you are railroading this through and have made up your mind.”

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Another opponent, Steve Wood, told the council he also believes the process needs to slow down and the council should explore other options.

“I believe there are alternatives to turning it over to a private entity,” Wood said.

Resident Peter Nelson said a for-profit business does not always mean a better operation, and the council needs to consider a plan that keeps the city in control.

Supporters of privatization said it would improve efficiency and end the annual operating deficit, calling DeCamp’s proposal a fair one.

“Privatization would benefit not just the taxpayer but every citizen,” said resident Pat Lozito, adding that DeCamp won’t raise prices. “It will cost citizens less; they (DeCamp) will maintain the premises and operate it efficiently. It is a win-win. Give it to DeCamp, and let them operate it.”

Also backing the plan was former City Councilor Mike Demars.

“Privatization does make sense,” Demars said. “It benefits all taxpayers and ends the subsidy.”

DeCamp was the only business to submit a qualified bid to operate the facility. It would have the facility open three days instead of two, and its pricing is the same as what the city now charges per bag for trash disposal. For other items, including electronics, appliances and bicycles, pricing is similar to or less than the city’s. However, the company proposes to charge for bagged recycling at $3 for a 13-gallon bag and $5 for a 30-gallon bag. Recycling of cardboard and aluminum and metal  cans would continue to be free.

“The times of free recycling are no longer here,” owner Travis DeCamp wrote in the company’s proposal. “Many communities across America have found that it simply isn’t possible to provide this service for free. We will always charge for recycling in accordance with current market pricing to find a price that is as reasonable as possible.”

Resident Mike Tetu has led the push for keeping the facility in the city’s hands and has presented a proposal, which the council did not consider, to charge by weight.

“The weighing of trash will curtail those who pack their bags to the overstuffed max to avoid paying their fair share,” Tetu wrote in a handout at Wednesday’s meeting that included a petition from residents opposed to privatization.

He said the “vast majority” of users are willing to pay a weighing fee and it would recover the cost of operating the facility.

He also said the city’s decision to lease equipment has added to the annual operating deficit, a figure he disputes. According to Tetu, if the fixed costs for monitoring the closed landfill on the property are deducted and an estimated $45,000 in higher revenue is added for the recent increase in the price per bag of trash, the deficit falls to about $40,000.

“The message from constituents is clear: a petition with 680 signatures asking not to privatize,” said Tetu after the public comment period on Wednesday. “Hear your constituents and represent them.”

When the council took up the discussion, councilor Jonathan Stone took exception to claims that the city is rushing the process.

“We did our due diligence. Six months is not rushing it,” said Stone, who along with Matteau, Mayor Dale Girard and councilors Nick Koloski and Bill Limoges voted to pursue privatization.

Koloski responded to a comment that public services should remain public, noting the city contracts with private companies for water and sewer services, mowing, paving and ambulance

“There are a lot of things privatized,” Koloski said.

Councilors Jim Contois, Andrew O’Hearne, Rocky Beliveau and Matt Mooshian opposed the privatization route.

Contois said his position has not changed.

“We’ve been rushing this,” he said. “It needs further study.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

CORRECTION: Recycling of cardboard and aluminum and metal  cans would continue to be free under a proposal from DeCamp Waste Services of Claremont to operate the city-owned transfer station. Bagged recycling would have a charge of $3 for a 13-gallon bag and $5 for a 30-gallon bag. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on what DeCamp would charge for recycling.

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