ST. ALBANS CITY — The most heated topic of conversation at Monday night’s St. Albans City Council meeting was a proposal to regulate the collection of trash in the city.
Introducing the ordinance, St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud compared trash collection in the city to the wild west. “We’ve got close to a dozen haulers,” he said. “Every day is trash day.”
The proposed ordinance would have limited collection to two days per week – one for commercial collection and one for residential. It also would have limited the amount of time homeowners could put trash cans out to 48 hours between 9 a.m. the day before collection and 9 a.m. the day after.
Trash collection would have been limited to between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The proposal met with immediate opposition from Ward 2 Councilor Jim Pelkey, who said, “I do not like the fact that we are contracting individually with our trash haulers and then being told what day they can come and what hours.”
The offered ordinance also required that both trash and recyclables be stored in wheeled totes with lids.
How to regulate trash collection is a topic the city has been exploring for a few years, with much of the focus being on how to stop totes from being left out on the street for long periods of time and items from blowing out of them.
If containers of recyclables lack lids “you put them out on a windy day, all your recyclables will be gone,” noted Ward 6 Councilor Chad Spooner.
“I’ve had complaints about totes being left out year-round,” said Councilor Tim Hawkins, Ward 1, who has long advocated for a trash ordinance. He, too, mentioned every day looking like trash day, as well as overstuffed bins and trash blowing around.
The proposed ordinance, said Spooner, “is a watered down version of what we were talking about.”
“I can drive down my street and every day there’s totes out,” he added.
Councilor Marie Bessette, Ward 3, said that two local trash haulers are based in Burlington. “Why should they have to switch around all these customers to accommodate us?” she asked.
“I don’t think we should tell them they can’t come on Wednesday, they have to come on Thursday,” said Pelkey.
“We’re the cherry on top because of our density,” replied Cloud, referring to the fact that city houses are close together, reducing collection costs for haulers. “They’re going to come. We’ve got some leverage on this.”
“I don’t think having a particular day is going to eliminate any haulers,” said Hawkins.
One of the reasons for limiting collection to one day was making it easier to regulate how long totes have been left out, said Cloud. “How do you regulate how long it’s been out there if you have multiple [collection] days?” he asked.
The only hauler to attend the meeting was Myers Container Service represented by Joe Sinagra.
Sinagra said that on a fast day a truck can collect trash from 300 homes. With 3,000 homes, ten trucks would be needed to collect all of the waste in the city, he said.
Myers visits the city every weekday with a total of ten trucks per week. Casella Waste probably sends four times that many, he estimated. “You probably have 60-75 trucks coming in to St. Albans in a week.”
Sinagra also suggested once per week pickup would be inadequate for businesses, particularly restaurants, which Myers currently picks up three days per week. There is also the issue of having adequate space for dumpsters downtown. If there was just one collection day for businesses, those with multiple collection days per week would need larger dumpsters, he pointed out.
Marty Manahan, the city’s director of operations, said the city has been successful in working with downtown businesses on dumpster locations.
Because many city streets are narrow, it’s easier to pick up in early morning, before traffic starts moving, according to Sinagra. This was in response to comments from Mayor Tim Smith, Spooner and Ward 4 Councilor Mike McCarthy about noise from trucks.
“Trash is in a lot of cases like the wild west,” Sinagra said, pointing to unlicensed haulers who have begun collecting trash in their pickup trucks.
Sinagra did concede that Myers would never pull out of the city, but said pricing would change “dramatically” if the ordinance passed.
Cloud suggested Monday, Wednesday and Friday for commercial pick up and Tuesday and Thursday for residential collection. “A trash hauler has a big impact on a neighborhood,” he said. “It can’t just be like the wild west out there.”
Spooner agreed, saying that in his years on the council 90 percent of complaints from the public are about speeding or trash. “Something has to be done,” said Spooner.
Mary Pelkey, wife of the Ward 2 Councilor, suggested there may be ways to label totes based on the day of collection. “I’m a little frustrated with the ordinance, mainly being told what day we can have our trash picked up,” she said. Too much regulation, she added, could result in life in the city feeling like life in a gated community.
Councilors are no longer exploring an option that was considered early on in the discussions about trash – franchising. Under such a system the city would charge residents an annual fee for trash collection and then hire a hauler, through a competitive bidding process, to collect from all city residents. The hauler would have set routes, visiting different areas of the city on different days. The increased efficiency would likely result in lower fees than residents currently pay to contract independently.
Hawkins said franchising was a possibility if “couldn’t get something else through.”
“Everybody hates change,” he added, “but it’s gotta happen.”
Councilor Pelkey said he feels this is an example of overregulation infringing on people’s rights.
Hawkins replied, “I didn’t know there was a Constitutional right to have your trash picked up.”
The council intends to revisit the issue at future meetings.
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