Merrimack officials dump trash proposal

MERRIMACK – Following a packed hearing Monday, town councilors canned a proposed trash and recycling program, leaving themselves with difficult decisions in order to keep next year’s spending on track.

By abandoning a proposed “pay-as-you-throw” program, which would have saved the town an estimated $800,000, town leaders will have to cut that amount from the budget, move to raise the money in taxes or go for some combination.

After the hearing, the seven-member group began tentatively tossing out money-saving ideas and giving direction to Town Manager Keith Hickey ahead of Thursday, which is when the council next takes up the spending plan for the coming year.

Councilor Mike Malzone said he’d come up with $1.25 million in cuts across all departments, which he said includes layoffs. Malzone said he also found places to cut in overtime, vehicle fuel, education incentives and the library, and he asked Hickey to look into outsourcing ambulance services.

Councilor Tim Tenhave asked Hickey to investigate the savings in opening the transfer station just three days a week, and Councilor David Yakuboff agreed that he’d prefer some kind of furlough to the idea of layoffs.

The council is at this point because it issued a guideline to present voters with a zero-increase budget. Hickey’s plan to meet that goal was pay-as-you-throw, but most councilors said they didn’t feel the town was prepared to move the program forward.

Their sentiments echoed the many folks who spoke in opposition to the plan, which would have required users to purchase special bags for trash.

Town officials said the point was to encourage users to separate recyclables from their regular trash, thereby cutting down on hauling costs and tipping fees, plus increase recycling, which would generate more revenue for the town to help offset transfer station operating costs.

But many residents who stood to speak were concerned about how the program would be enforced and the potential for illegal dumping, among other objections.

“This is a backdoor tax is all it is,” said Ken Davis of Greatstone Drive. “If you want to encourage young people in town, stop the taxes. It’s ridiculous.”

“As against it as I was, now I have a million dollar transfer station . . . and on top of paying for that tax burden, I now need to pay for my bags to take them there?” asked Emily Coburn who lives on Windsor Drive. “Now, we have a service in town worth saving, but not paying extra for.”

Hickey estimated that if the program was approved, it would keep the town’s portion of the tax rate steady at $4.23 per $1,000 of assessed value. To the owner of a house assessed at $300,000, it would save about $80.

Harry Kapsambelis of Englewood Drive said that savings would only cover the cost of about 50 bags, which shakes out to about one a week.

“My point is, I go through two bags of trash a week,” Kapsambelis said. “I don’t see how this is going to save me any money. I see this as costing me money.”

To South Merrimack resident Ken Scudero, part of the issue was fairness.

“I feel it’s unfortunate that a lot of people like myself, that go through all of this effort, are in effect going to be penalized because of all the people who don’t do this,” Scudero said. “There has to be a more equitable way to do that.”

Dave Hausmann, of Cummings Road, suggested rewarding people for recycling, rather than charging people who don’t, and many folks said townspeople simply needed more education on recycling.

“If we cannot educate the people of the town, you’re never going to get recycling,” said Amherst Road resident Roland Roberge. “You can’t force recycling on anyone.”

Several residents did support the program, touting its benefits for the environment and that the program would introduce single-stream recycling, eliminating the need to separate materials.

“I used to think that everyone was like me and recycled, but since this issue has come up, I’ve been talking to a lot of people I know who are not recycling,” said Robin House of Marty Drive. “This is a good way to encourage people to recycle.”