By Seth Daniel
One man’s trash might soon become one politician’s revenue stream.
With local governments looking for money like a starving animal looks for food, just about everything is on the table when it comes to taxation and fees.
One fee that Mayor Tom Ambrosino said the city wouldn’t be able to avoid much longer is a trash fee – or what is known as a pay-as-you-throw trash collection system. The mayor said in the next three to five years – or maybe sooner – the city’s leaders will have a tough and probably unpopular decision to make about a trash fee.
“A trash fee is probably coming soon,” he said. “I think it’s inevitable, but it would probably be instituted by the next mayor. I don’t think it’s coming in the next year or so, but given the outlook for fiscal year 2011, anything could happen…Everyone will be there shortly. It’s not something that any community will be able to avoid. There’s an inevitability to it.”
Currently, and for a long time, trash pickup costs are assumed to be included in property tax payments, and many taxpayers certainly still see it that way. A trash fee system would take that assumption away, and would institute a system where a separate fee is charged for trash pickup. There are numerous ways that it plays out, but typically a fee is either tacked onto a property owner’s water bill or people are required to buy special bags to put on the curb.
The trash fee discussion has been on the tip of the mayor’s tongue for some time, as it has been with many officials in surrounding towns. Trash is a big budget item, and when things get tough, many administrators look to implement a way for trash pickup to pay for itself.
Last year, Ambrosino flirted with the idea of having a trash fee, but it was avoided by massaging other areas of the budget. Next year, the topic could come up once again.
In other places, like Winthrop, the trash fee has been suggested and shot down.
However, Revere’s next-door neighbor Malden implemented a pay-as-you-throw system last October, in which they require residents to purchase bags for trash pickup at a cost of $3 per bag. Malden Mayor Richard Howard said it has gleaned much savings and boosted recycling.
“That’s what happened under the program nearly one year into it,” said Howard. “Basically, our recycling tonnage has skyrocketed and the amount of bags that [residents] have to buy are nowhere near what we expected…The average cost is about $150 or less per year for a household, and we haven’t had any illegal dumping problems or anything like that.”
Howard said Malden’s trash budget has, in one year, decreased from $2.2 million to $700,000. Additionally, the city has collected nearly $2 million from the sale of trash bags to residents. Both pieces of that puzzle have basically taken the program off the budget, making Malden’s trash pickup program totally self-sustaining and, maybe, even a way to generate money.
Nevertheless, that savings hasn’t come without controversy.
Naturally, savings for the city means more money coming out from residents’ pockets. In addition to tax bills, water and sewer bills, and other existing fees, residents now must pay additional fees to get their trash picked up.
Already, Malden residents in opposition have collected signatures and have placed a question on this November’s City Election ballot. The question asks residents to weigh in on getting rid of the fee. If it wins, the program will be discontinued.
Mayor Howard said it was a savings that he couldn’t ignore when state aid had been cut down so much.
“We have to rely on ourselves more, and this is a device to help us do that,” he said. “I probably couldn’t get a Proposition 2 1/2 override passed. This is something we can do…If we hadn’t had it in place, this year would be even more difficult than it was.”
Of the 350 cities and towns, most have gone the way of Malden. Around 125 have gone to a system like Malden, while 100 or so have gone to a fee that is tacked onto the water bill.
And if Mayor Ambrosino is correct, Revere might be another one of those communities sometime in the near future.
Ambrosino said the city could save somewhere around $1.4 million a year.
“It generates enough money to pay for trash,” he said. “It’s purely a money issue really, and it does boost recycling.”
Mayor Howard said in the end, many in opposition decided that Malden’s system wasn’t so bad, especially since everyone, including tenants, had to buy the trash bags.
“A lot of people who were upset at first, once they understood it was fair for everyone and it promoted recycling, have come up on the street and said that they felt it wasn’t so bad,” he said. “In the end, it’s not as bad as a lot of people thought.”
In Revere, though, that conclusion hasn’t been reached yet.