June 25, 2008

Lowell Council OKs Concept of Excessive-Trash Fee

By Michael Lafleur, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Jun. 25--LOWELL -- City councilors last night took their first official step toward adopting a new trash-collection system in which residents who throw out excessive amounts will have to pay more than those who recycle.

The council voted 8-1, with Councilor Bill Martin opposed, to approve the concept of a pay-as-you-throw collection system and ask City Manager Bernie Lynch to draft a formal proposal codifying the system and including other changes in the city's solid-waste removal program.

Lynch is expected to provide councilors with that information in time for their next meeting, scheduled for July 8. If he does so, it could pave the way for a July 22 public hearing on the proposal.

If approved at a public hearing, the program would not take effect until January.

Members of two council subcommittees -- environmental affairs and neighborhoods/traffic -- have been discussing the matter for the past several months. At issue is the fact that Lowell has long been faced with a trash-removal deficit. The system is expected to be about $4.6 million in the red this year.

Lynch has said he expects the new program, in its first year, to reduce that amount by about $2 million and increase Lowell's recycling rate from its current, dismal level of 7 percent to roughly 25 percent.

Martin opposed the measure because he said he feared it would lead to illegal dumping and that the city would it essentially unenforceable, particularly with multi-family apartment


"I hope I'm proved wrong," he said.

Even the initiative's supporters noted that they expect an adjustment period, but Councilor Alan Kazanjian, chairman of the neighborhoods/traffic subcommittee, noted that both Worcester and Nashua have pay-as-you-throw systems and neither reported problems with illegal trash dumping.

"It's going to be a bumpy road at the beginning," he said. "Whenever you have a change like that, it's going to happen. But I think overall it's going to work."

Kazanjian and other supporters of the proposal also stressed that it ends a system in which residents who do recycle are subsidizing those who do not.

As currently proposed, the plan calls for charging the 26,000 property owners who receive municipal trash-collection service a $125 annual fee, a $25 increase from the current amount. City officials would then distribute specially designed, 64-gallon trash bins to those homeowners. They would be required to pay $1.50 for each additional bag of trash beyond that limit. Recycling, however, would be free.

Under the proposal, the city also would begin charging fees for the collection of things like refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, computer monitors, tires, propane tanks and other bulky items. There would be a new, increased fines for illegal dumping as well.

"This is a problem from a financial perspective, and it's a problem we need to deal with," Councilor Rodney Elliott, chairman of the environmental affairs subcommittee, said during a joint subcommittee meeting that preceded last night's regular meeting.

"We understand it's a major change in policy. There will be a struggle, but it's something that has to be done or we can sit back and we're just going to continue to see a runaway deficit."


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