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Manchester takes hard look at pay-as-you-throw

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 23. 2014 12:44AM

MANCHESTER — City officials are taking a serious look at a “pay-as-you-throw” trash pick-up fee that has proven controversial in other communities.

Mayor Ted Gatsas and Department of Public Works officials have met with representatives of a company that could administer the program. Meetings are also being scheduled with some of the aldermen to discuss the idea.

The pay-as-you-throw system, which has also been termed “bag and tag,” is one of more than a dozen ideas proposed by department heads to generate more revenue for the city. The proposals were solicited by Gatsas as he faces the difficult task of putting together a tax-cap constrained budget.

According to Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard, a pay-as-you-throw system in Manchester could yield up to $3.5 million in “potential revenue,” an amount that dwarfs any other departmental proposal.

Under the system, the garbage collectors would only pick up special trash bags that residents would have to buy; in other communities the cost is about $1-$2 per bag. One of the primary goals of the program is to encourage residents to throw away less and recycle more, which, in addition to the money made from selling the bags, can also generate revenue for a municipality. Gatsas stressed that the idea was only under discussion at this point.

“The highway department has had conversations with people, and I’ve talked to them,” he said. “Certainly I think the board should have conversations” about this.

The pay-as-you-throw concept has surfaced in the past at City Hall, but has never made it far beyond the discussion phase.

Gatsas appears to be more open to the idea than he was in 2010, when, early in his first term, he organized a panel to propose ways to improve government efficiency. Gatsas reacted skeptically to a fee-based trash system.

“We have a tax rate ... that includes your garbage collection, and then you turn and say to somebody, ‘But you’ve got to buy bags,’” he said at the time. “Are you going to take that $150 off my taxes?”

Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, who is the chairman of both the Committee on Administration and the Special Committee of Solid Waste, said she wanted to ensure that the public has a chance to weigh in on the issue.

“I’m already getting calls about this,” she said. “I think we are at the point where we need to look at everything, but we have to weigh the impact this has on the community versus the savings it will generate and whether we’re ready for this.”

Craig said she anticipated special ward meetings being organized so residents could have their say on the issue.

Craig added that she was personally undecided on the issue and that she still had many unanswered questions.

“What are we going to do with the green toters that people purchased? Who’s going to be responsible for tenants,” she asked.

Bag fee programs have been adopted in Dover, Concord and a handful of other communities in the state. They’ve also encountered fierce resistance. In Merrimack, town councilors reversed course and rescinded a pay-as-you-throw program in April 2011, after voters overwhelmingly rejected it in a warrant article.

Concord’s program was instituted in 2009. The city’s distinctive purple trash bags can be purchased at more than a dozen stores in the city. A 15-gallon bag costs $1; a 30-gallon bag costs $2.

Chip Chesley, the city’s general services director, credits the program with reducing the cost of its waste management program by $1.7 million a year.

The city contracts with WasteZero, a national company that handles the logistics of distributing and selling the bags.

Representatives of the company are also meeting with Manchester officials.

Chesley said he considered the program a success for Concord, but he stressed that reaching out to residents was an important first step.

“I think whenever you propose any type of change like this, it’s important that there’s a very high level of discussion relative to the pros and cons,” he

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