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Expanded trash collection on ballot

Union Leader Correspondent

February 17. 2012 11:09PM

SALEM - A nonbinding referendum regarding curbside garbage and recycling pickup has residents talking trash.

On Election Day, residents will be asked if the town should provide curbside pickup for single-family homes and duplexes starting in July.

The question was almost scrapped when officials realized that the original estimates for the proposal were off by about $100,000, but Selectmen decided to move forward.

'It was human error,' said Selectman Pat Hargreaves, chairman of the Municipal Solid Waste Subcommittee. 'We realized our numbers were off.'

The 2012 budget hadn't been created when the Solid Waste Subcommittee started its estimates, so the 2011 budget was used. The transfer station's 2012 budget was cut during the process, leading to the discrepancy, Hargreaves said.

The adjusted cost would be $445,000 for a full year of curbside pickup service in 2013, adding about 12 cents per $1,000 to the tax rate. The owner of a $275,000 home would pay an additional $33 in taxes. The agreement would be in effect through 2016.

One of the items cut from the budget was the acceptance of construction and demolition waste at the transfer station. That has raised some eyebrows because construction and demolition are included in the five-year agreement with E.L. Harvey & Sons, the vendor that will be used if voters decide to accept the service.

The discontinuance of C&D at the transfer station was not related to the trash pickup proposal, said Town Manager Keith Hickey.

'The elimination of construction and demolition was a budgetary decision,' Hickey said.

Selectmen cut $95,748 for C&D in September and planned for the service to end in December, well before the Solid Waste Subcommittee made its recommendation, Hickey said. The Municipal Budget Committee later returned $31,916 to fund three months of the service, which will end April 1.

The town is working with a private vendor in town to see if that company will reduce its $75 minimum fee to dispose of C&D, Hickey said.

Recycling rates have also been called into question. Previous subcommittee reports have put the number around 12 percent, but Casella Waste Services, which currently manages the town transfer station, disagrees. The town recycled 14.3 percent of its trash in 2009, 17 percent in 2010, and 18.6 percent in 2011, according to Cheryl Coletti-Blake, eastern region regional marketing manager.

'She used townwide numbers,' Hargreaves said.

His numbers came from the transfer station but reflected only what was brought to the recycling window by residents, he said. Casella's numbers include all recyclables collected and brought to the transfer station.

Regardless of Election Day results, voters will see an article asking for $172,000 to fund six months in 2012 at the Second Deliberative Session on March 17. If the article passes, the town will have to raise the money, Hickey said.

It the majority votes 'no' on the referendum question but the March 17 article passes, the ballot decision could effectively be overturned at the second Deliberative Session.

A similar situation occurred last year when a $6 million bond for road repair failed to get the required two-thirds majority at the ballot, but the roads article was increased by $2.5 million at the second Deliberative Session, resulting in a 16 percent spike in the town portion of the tax rate.

'My hope is that whatever the will of the people is on March 13 will be consistent with the will of the people on March 17,' Hickey said.

Hargreaves takes it a step further, saying he would move to zero out the article if the nonbinding resolution fails.

'If it fails, it fails,' Hargreaves said. 'I will not push it forward.'

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