City short on cash for trash disposal

NASHUA – Aldermen will have to look hard at how to pay for the city’s trash-disposal operation because the Solid Waste Department has a forecasted $3.7 million deficit with the current payment system.

And relying on the private sector to bail out the service may force city residents into a more expensive disposal system in about 15 years, according to the city’s Solid Waste Department superintendent.

Superintendent Richard Reine offered a rebuttal to private firms that have pitched the idea to the Board of Public Works and aldermen that privatizing the municipal service could make money for the city.

Earlier this year, a mayoral task force examining the Solid Waste Department’s operation suggested looking into privatization to dig it out of deficits expected for the next years.

There is no legislation in front of the Board of Aldermen to push the idea.

Last month, a private waste-hauling firm told public works commissioners it could save the city $124 million over 20 years.

Reine dismissed the idea during a presentation to the Board of Aldermen that a private hauler could save the city that kind of money. “Savings of that magnitude do not exist in the Solid Waste Department,” he said.

However, aldermen need to make a decision how to fund the department, he said.

The complexity of operating a modern landfill, with its environmental regulations, makes it too expensive to run only on commercial tipping fees, as is the current practice, he said.

The system of relying on commercial haulers to subsidize the department’s operation to serve Nashua residents is out of date, he said.

He likened it to the wastewater treatment plant charging only commercial water users for sewer services, and other residents paying nothing.

The city charges $80 a ton for solid waste and $90 a ton for construction debris to run it as a self-supporting enterprise fund. City residents haven’t paid for trash pickup in the past.

This fiscal year, the facility needed $1 million from the general operating budget to get out of the red. Next year, the subsidy is expected to increase to $3.7 million, Reine said.

Private business could make substantially more money only by importing trash into the city’s landfill, not by introducing efficiencies, he said.

The city already collects trash and disposes of it proficiently, he said.

It costs the Solid Waste Department $41.67 to dispose of a ton of trash per year, according to information provided by the department. Other communities pay between $75 and $90 a ton, he said.

Reine told aldermen that a year after the city switched to an automated collection system, benchmarks have been met.

The number of garbage collectors has gone from 25 to 18, saving $390,000 a year. The department has achieved a record of 416 days without a lost-time accident. And more recyclables are being reused instead of taking up space in the landfill.

If aldermen want to import trash as a moneymaker, the board can decree that policy without using a private firm, he said.

However, a consequence would be that in about 15 years the landfill would have to close and trash removal would become even more costly by having to construct a transfer station or other method, Reine said.