Gloucester eyes fee increases for trash pickup
Hearing on ‘Barney bags,’ sticker prices set for May 24
The cost to Gloucester residents of placing “Barney bags” with the week’s trash by the curb for pickup may be going up come July 1, but not before residents get to have their say over Gloucester’s first trash service price hikes in more than seven years.
A cost increase to the city under a new five-year contract signed with Gloucester-based Hiltz Waste Disposal for curbside trash pickup and other waste services has been factored into Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken’s proposed $105.1 million fiscal 2017 budget.
Chief of Administration James Destino said the proposed hike of 25 cents per trash bag, or an added $1.25 for the pack of five in which bags are sold, is needed to offset a jump of $153,000 in the city’s costs under the contract signed earlier this month with Hiltz Disposal. The anticipated revenue is also included in the spending plan for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.
While the proposed hikes have garnered an early show of support from a City Council subcommittee, they’ve also drawn their first question mark.
The council’s Ordinance and Administration Subcommittee last week backed the planned increases, which extend to appliance and bulk item disposal, as well. The group’s backing came on a rare 2-1 vote, with Council President Joe Ciolino and subcommittee Chairman Scott Memhard supporting the measure, and Councilor At-large Joseph Orlando Jr. opposed.
“It’s 25 cents a bag, I know, I get it. And I know the administration is acting in good faith to try to balance the budget, which I fully respect,” Orlando said. “But my concern is that it’s still an increase in the burden we’re putting on residents, and I don’t ever want to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
The subcommittee recommendation means the proposed fee hikes — the first since the trash bag program was launched in 2009, and the first since the city raised the prices on its old trash bag stickers in 2006 — will now go to the full council for a public hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, May 24.
“People will have a chance to have their say,” Ciolino said, “but, from what I can see, it’s the first increase since we started, it’s not a big increase, and, for my money, it’s still a good deal.”
Public Works Director Mike Hale, who raised the specter of fee hikes in an April 20 memo to Destino, said some of the hikes rectify cost problems that literally don’t add up.
“Under the current fee structure,” he noted, “appliances cost less to have picked up curbside than they do to be dropped off.’’ The proposal would raise the fee for stickers tagged to appliances for pickup from $25 to $30, while stickers for bulk items such as furniture and mattresses would rise from $5 to $10.
“Gone are the days when somebody who delivers a new couch or mattress will just take away the old one for free,” Hale said. “We’re glad to provide that pickup service, but we have to be realistic.”
Destino said that’s the case with other aspects of the proposed hikes as well.
The pay-as-you-throw “Barney bag” program — nicknamed by residents in the early going because the bags’ distinctive purple color is similar to the famed kids’ TV dinosaur — has proven an incentive for residents to increase their recycling. Statistics have consistently shown that’s the case, and Hiltz provides weekly recycling pickup free of any resident charges. But the trash bag program has never been self-sustaining financially, budget figures show.
The city, Destino and Ciolino said, has steadily picked up about a third of the cost of the disposal contract. That’s the case under the fiscal 2017 budget proposal as well, with a projected total cost of $1.7 million even with the increased fees producing revenues of $1.12 million. According to city budget figures, the fees are expected to generate $962,500 for this fiscal year, which runs through June 30.
The city’s new five-year contract with Hiltz was awarded May 2 following requests for proposals that gave the city flexibility to choose a contractor based on its service plan as well as costs, city purchasing agent Donna Compton noted.
Hale said that allowed the city to consider Hiltz’s service, which has included weekly — instead of biweekly — recycling pickups and the bulk services that have been in effect since the purple bags first graced the city’s streets in 2009.
Compton confirmed that Hiltz still came in with the low bid, besting industry giants Waste Management and JRM Hauling of Peabody.
“To me, for the service we get, it’s still a bargain,” Ciolino said. “It’s a good program.”
Orlando, however, said he’d like to discuss some alternatives, rather than raising trash-related fees.
“I’d just rather find a more creative way,” he said. “If that means we have to find another $150,000 out of a budget of more than $100 million, I’d like to think we do some creative thinking and find a way to do that.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at email@example.com.
Talkin’ trash in Gloucester
Proposed fee increases for Gloucester residents’ solid waste collection. Public hearing before City Council on May 24; changes, if approved, targeted for July 1.
36-gallon (large, purple) bags
- Current: $2 each, $10 for 5-pack
- Proposed: $2.25 each, $11.25 for 5-pack
15-gallon (small, purple) bags
- Current: $1 each, $5 for 5-pack
- Proposed: $1.25 each, $6.25 for 5-pack
- Current: $25 each
- Proposed: $30 each
Bulk item stickers (furniture, mattresses etc.)
- Current: $5 each
- Proposed $10 each
Source: Gloucester Department of Public Works