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Residents to weigh-in on trash fee increases

Date: 5/7/2012

May 7, 2012

By Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD — The City of Springfield will continue to host its series of public hearings regarding proposed solid waste removal fee increases for the next two weeks.

The City Council and Mayor Domenic Sarno are exploring three different options for trash fee increases with the hope of reducing the reliance on general fund dollars to supplement the multi-million dollar shortfall between current revenues and expenses related to solid waste removal.

A series of four meeting were scheduled to garner public feedback with three hearings remaining. The first will take place on May 8 at 6 p.m. at the Pine Point Community Council, 335 Berkshire Ave. Another hearing will be hosted at City Hall on May 9 at 6 p.m. with the final meeting slated for May 14 at the Frederick Harris School cafeteria at 6 p.m.

According to Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Lee Erdmann, the city currently spends roughly $10 million on trash-related expenses while taking in only $3.6 million in revenues generated by trash fees, recycling rebates, bulk and extra bag trash stickers and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) grants.

"I've talked with the mayor about options that would be appropriate and we have developed three options for the City Council's consideration," Erdmann said.

The first option, which Erdmann recommends, would increase the trash fee by $29 annually from fiscal year 2013 (FY13) through 2017, a move that he estimates would eliminate the solid waste service's dependence on the general fund altogether.

"My perspective is the general fund is under extreme stress," he said. "One of the ways to offer relief to the general fund is to remove the trash subsidy and make trash removal self-sufficient, like we did with water and sewer."

The second option would increase the trash fee by $10 a year through FY17, which would reduce the general fund supplement for trash service by approximately $1.1 million over the next five years.

The third option, which Erdmann referred to as Sarno's preference, is a $10 increase in FY13 and a $5 increase in subsequent years. According to Erdmann, this plan would allow the city to "tread water."

Early responses from the public have not been favorable, Erdmann reported, after the first of four public meetings, which took place recently in Sixteen Acres.

"We got beat up pretty good," he said. "People don't want an increase in trash fees or in their taxes. They think we could find ways to cut expenses."

Sarno is exploring cost-cutting options in addition to the fee increases, Erdmann explained. A budget review session has been scheduled for May 18 at which he will discuss possible cuts to the FY13 budget with department heads.

The city is also considering discontinuing trash service for apartment buildings with four or more units.

"This is something the people seem to be behind," Erdmann said. "People in 16 Acres expressed support for it. They don't understand why the city should pay for trash removal for for-profit residential establishments."

In addition to trash fee increases, the city is planning on replacing the 96 gallon green trash bins with new 65 gallon bins in an attempt to come into compliance with a DEP mandate that states the city must reduce its yearly solid waste tonnage 30 percent by 2020. The 98-gallon recycling bins would not be replaced and residents would be able to keep their 98-gallon green barrel for yard waste.

The reduction in the size of the trash bins, along with the increase of recycling pick up from bi-weekly to weekly, are expected to help the city reach that goal.

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