Transfer Station fees: Small change this year, deeper look for next year (Updated)

Above: Selectmen will ask the Public Works Planning Board to look at how much of the Transfer Station should be funded by property taxes vs user fees. Feeling a little déjà vu? (Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

Town officials scrapped big changes to the Town’s trash disposal program this year. Instead, some users will see a $50 increase in Transfer Station sticker prices for this fall.**** And selectmen will task the Public Works Planning Board with another swing at a possible overhaul to funding for the following year.

Earlier this month, an FY19 Budget presentation to selectmen recommended having users fully fund the Transfer Station through increased permit fees. At the time, who would pay more – and by how much – was unknown. Selectmen were wary of an unspecified change. They asked for more details.

Last week, Treasurer Brian Ballantine brought selectmen his updated budget.* With it came a revised recommendation. The Town would continue to cover part of Transfer Station expenses. But that amount would be reduced. To cover the gap, the discount for early registration will be eliminated.

The annual rate will hold steady at $250 for non-seniors**. The option to pay less over the summer will disappear. Last year, about 1,400 households took advantage of a $50 discount.

Selectmen were in disagreement over what direction the Town should be moving in for TS funding. In the end, they agreed with Selectwoman Lisa Braccio’s request to take this year to thoroughly investigate options. In the meantime, they supported Ballantine’s proposal for this year.***

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf warned that to avoid the same problem next spring, work will need to begin right after Town Meeting. She followed:

sooner or later we’re looking at $3.5M to rehab the Transfer Station. That’s not going to be covered by stickers.

Town Administrator Mark Purple recommended using the Public Works Planning Board for work evaluating payment options. But he predicted that the board will say they’ve looked into it before.

Purple urged selectmen to come up with the parameters, viewpoints, and options they want the PWPB to explore.

In 2015, the PWPB recommended that Selectmen eliminate sticker fees. The majority urged that as a community resource it should be fully tax-funded and open to residents. They also encouraged making it easier to recycle. Selectmen ignored the first option. As for the second, they later adopted stickers for Recycling Only. But that was based on a Citizen’s Petition Article passed at Town Meeting.

In it’s report, the PWPB advised against Pay as You Throw. (You can read about their presentation of the report here. You can also read the full report here.)

Earlier in last week’s talk, Selectman Brian Shifrin again supported moving towards a fully user-funded Transfer Station.

Selectman Brian Shea argued against unfunding one of the Town’s resources. He said they needed to decide if they want a Transfer Station. If the Town wants it, he believed it should be a resource for all residents, whether they take advantage or not. That means staffing and operations should be tax funded. But, he argued that the variable cost of trash disposal should be Pay as You Throw.

Braccio said she didn’t fully agree. She believed it should be a resource for all. But she isn’t a fan of Pay as You Throw. In asking for time to explore options, she pointed out that many residents have strong opinions on the Transfer Station.

At the time of PWPB’s presentation, only two of our current selectmen were serving: Phaneuf and now-Chair Dan Kolenda. Shea was elected between the January report and the June vote on that year’s rates and regulations.

*The Budget purportedly had only minor changes from the last presentation, coming in at 3.9% higher than last year. According to Ballantine, the only potential change is the Regional School Committee’s budget. That could go down, but it won’t go up. He quoted the final budget (without additional Articles) as $53.852M.

**Seniors will still receive free permit stickers.

***Chair Dan Kolenda was in the minority. He was concerned that without an early bird period, the Clerk’s office would see a “massive influx” of applications at the renewal deadline. He suggested upping fees a little and offering some kind of discount for early registration. The majority of the board disagreed.

*****Updated (2/28/17 12:49 pm): A commenter pointed out that the $30 change stated by Ballantine and Purple was incorrect. Purple spoke about a $220 discount rate that wouldn’t be offered. But last year, the discount rate was $200. That means the fee will increase by $50 for everyone who had been taking advantage of the discount registration periods. That’s a 25% increase.

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Carl Guyer
6 years ago

Well now is the time for the town to consider two ideas that are long over due.

First is to directly link the cost of paid by users of the Transfer Station to the cost of disposing of the trash they generate. This is not rock science, many communities with common sense have solved this problem. As Chairman of our now defunct Recycling committee for many years, I always advocated for a Pay-As-You-Throw system. I know this idea is note welcomed by many, but it is damn fair and effective. Lets end the exisitng free-for-all disposal game that goes on at the Transfer Station.

The second idea is a practice in Southborough of giving everyone over 65 a free Transfer Sticker. As I like to point out, I bought my wife a new Mercedes-Benz for Christmas a couple of years ago, but the town thinks, because I am over 65, I am in need of a free sticker to make ends meet. How about giving free stickers to those less fortunate. This unjustified practice cost the town nearly $150,000 last year.

I think these are practical ideas that are fair, cost effective and enviromentally friendly.

Downtown Resident
6 years ago

I feel we should rethink the free-for-seniors practice as well. When the cost of an annual TS sticker was $50 per family, I had no peoblem with the free-for-seniors sticker. But times have changed. Everything is more expensive than things were 20 years ago. As the price goes up for families, who have many more expenses than those without kids in the home, so should it go up for seniors as well. Even $25 for an annual TS sticker for seniors would be helpful and still afordable for those seniors who are truly on a fixed income. It would also be fare as they, presumably, do not generate as much trash as a family does.

6 years ago

If THIS town service becomes one that puts the burden of its operating costs on the citizen users, then I propose that all of the other Southborough Town “services” should do the same. Why not?
What will stop the BOS the next time they need to balance the budget? Will they next request that all recreation department operating costs be covered by its users. The senior center may ask that all costs be covered by its users. I have no intention of ever using the Southborough Cemetary. My family has other plans. Can I remove tax support for it? I don’t have children in the schools. I imagine many senior citizens do not either. Can all seniors opt to pay the transfer station fee instead of any tax support for schools they don’t use? $150,000 Mr. Guyer? How much do these same seniors contribute in their taxes to our School Budget?!

If you think this is absurd, think again. Carefully consider what the various boards will do next. It seems that we no longer consider our decisions based on the good of the entire town. We don’t plan for our future. We cater to the loudest voices. We listen to wealthy builders and residents with multiple Mercedes or those who pay for the “convenience” of a private trash hauler.

I hope citizens will look at the bigger picture. This is not about trash. It is about who has the greatest influence on how our taxes are allocated. Speak now or forever hold your piece/peace.

6 years ago
Reply to  M

M, why is “convenience” in quotes? Is my using of private trash pickup either unethical or severely misguided? Please explain…

Also, while I agree with the basis of how some votes and decisions that may seem small actually set a precedent for larger decisions, I think that by immediately assuming Mr. Guyer is some sort of influence-peddling tycoon because he was able to do well and buy a nice car for his wife is short sighted.

Our family definitely lives below the average Southborough household income, but we’re a very affluent town overall. It’s not about who has money, it’s about who shows up at meetings, votes, and raises their voice. I don’t agree with much of what Mr. Guyer posts here, but I know I don’t find the time to participate at the level that he does in local gov, so I expect his battles to be won, not mine. It’s that easy.

6 years ago
Reply to  Southviller

I did not mean to offend anyone in particular. I made my views known in the previous discussion on the TS fee last week. This is where a few of the users of private haulers referred to the “convenience” in their arguments.

As to the tycoon comment, I feel it is Mr. Buyer who is short-sighted here because he says the town is giving Stickers to folks over 65 so they can ” make ends meet” and his comment about the Mercedes is to tell us he doesn’t have that problem. I guess it just irked me, and seemed to belittle seniors.

Finally, I and many other citizens have put in our time on town boards or issues, and your participation on any level is appreciated just as much as Mr. G’s in my book. Thank you. I would hope others will read this blog and the comments on Town issues as you do. Part of my point was to keep folks informed. It is not easy for any of us. But we want all voices to be heard. Again, sorry if I was not clear .

6 years ago
Reply to  M

I agree with M.
It seems arbitrary to tax users for some services but not for others. Why pick on Transfer Station users?

Seems the Transfer Station problem might be reduced with higher fees for business/commercial users and in my opinion, the overall town tax revenue shortfall really cries out for split tax rate implementation.

SB Resident
6 years ago

Correction that this is a $50 uptick not a $30.

I also would not call a 25% increase in price a small change and stating that the rate is “holding steady” is a pretty disingenuous way of downplaying a 25% fee increase.

Lastly, I’d just like to point out that 250 is my limit, any higher and I’ll switch to a private hauler. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that view and the 250 number was chosen for exactly this reason. When that number continues to slide up, more and more are going to switch and the economies of scale are going to get worse and worse driving the fee up further until we’re all using private haulers. Given that it sounds like there is some reason the powers that be feel that a 3.5 million dollar TS reno is in order, which I don’t think anyone will want to pay for, I’m guessing slowly driving people away from the TS is the strategic vision here.

SB Resident
6 years ago

Apologies. In an effort to be succinct my message wasn’t that clear. The disingenuous part was only meant to refer to the “holding steady” portion, which my reading still makes it feel like it came from Mr. Ballantine. I personally already found calling the previous $50 dollars savings a discount disingenuous. One could have just as easily considered the $50 a late fee. Now they get rid of the ‘discount’ and act like it isn’t a price (tax) increase. Any disingenuous finger pointing was solely meant for those in power that are playing these pricing / taxing games.

6 years ago

Wealthy residents over age 65 should not be getting any breaks. Pay throw is the way to go. Trash is not a public good. In a way it is a public bad. Throw less pay less.

6 years ago
Reply to  Publius

Removal of trash is still called the “Sanitation Department” in many cities because it was considered a public health issue. It is and will always be a “public good” or i.e. something done for the good of the public.

6 years ago

We moved here several years from another state. I was shocked–SHOCKED–that we had to drive our trash to the transfer station. And then to find out that we have to pay for the privilege of doing so….. Southborough is an affluent town. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have trash pickup. After a couple of years of schlepping my garbage to the transfer station, I finally gave up and now we pay for a company to come to our house. It’s not that much more than taking it to the transfer station myself. Other towns have managed to figure out how to do this–why can’t we?

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