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Manchester residents are trash talking over pay-as-you-throw

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 30. 2014 11:40PM

MANCHESTER — Many city residents don’t like the smell of a plan that would require them to buy special bags to throw away their garbage, at least based on telephone calls they’ve place to their aldermen in recent days.

Several aldermen say their constituents have had an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the prospect of the city adopting a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) system of trash collection. The plan was put forward earlier this month as a way to generate revenue for the city in the face of a tightly constrained budget.

The city’s public works director has estimated that PAYT, which has also been referred to as bag-and-tag, could yield up to $3.5 million in revenue and savings, both through the sale of the $1-$2 bags and by driving up the recycling rate.

On Wednesday, Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard and representatives of WasteZero, a company that administers PAYT programs around the country, held closed-door meetings with small groups of aldermen to brief them on the plan.

Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil, chairman of the board of aldermen, was unable to attend the presentation, but he said the message he’s received from residents is similar to the one he heard the last time a similar idea was floated.

“They say that’s what I pay taxes for,” he said. “People are concerned they’ll end up paying more in the cost for bags than if taxes went up, even above the tax cap.”

Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, who chairs the aldermen’s Special Committee on Solid Waste, said the presentation Wednesday did not address all her questions about how the program would work in the city. One key question is who would be responsible for buying the bags at rental buildings, the tenant or the landlord. “They said need they to do more research on Manchester,” Joyce said, referring to WasteZero.

Craig said she’s working on scheduling meetings in the community so the public will have a chance to learn more about the program before the issue is formally taken up by the committee.

Mayor Ted Gatsas has indicated that the PAYT program may be the only way to avoid going over the tax cap. “If the question is $3.5 million (in revenue) or increasing taxes by 2 percent, (residents) might prefer bag-and-tag because they can regulate what they’re doing,” he said.

For his part, O’Neil said it was too early to talk about whether the tax cap needed to be overridden, which requires a two-thirds vote of the aldermen. “We have to see what the mayor’s priorities are in his budget,” he said.

The other at-large alderman, Joe Kelly Levasseur, said he had already heard enough negative reactions to the PAYT even without going to the presentation earlier this week.

“I don’t appreciate the mayor having us go into back rooms and having us get lobbied,” he said. “There can be a presentation in front of the committee.”

Levasseur added that he thought that there were other things that could be done to save money on garbage collection, such as having all trash placed in the green toters similar to the ones some households use for recycling. The special toters allow the city’s recycling contractor, Pinard, to handle collection with fewer workers per truck than the city, which sends out three workers per truck to pick up trash.

“I’m not overriding the tax cap, and I’m not voting for this,” Levasseur said of PAYT. “We’re going to have to find other ways of getting things done.”

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