Wasteful thinking: Smith gives transfer station update
By Tom Reilly
Town Administrator Jim Smith gave the annual presentation to the Board of Selectmen at their Aug. 19 meeting on how the transfer station was doing. He noted the town raised the cost of a sticker by $10 to $40 last year as a result of the transfer station barely breaking even and realizing the need for a funding source for the capital replacement of compactors that are getting worn and old. Smith added hiring new transfer station operator Dave Arsenault has made a difference.
Smith said stickers could be purchased at town hall—$1.25 for small or $2.50 for large, as well as the Sutton Center Store, Nick’s Variety, and Heritage Supply. Smith said the price of the bags has remained the same since the transfer station opened nine years ago.
The town administrator said the annual costs are also the same. The annual cost for a family using the transfer station is $235. He said this represents a sticker and 1.5 large bags per week. He said a small family could do even better, getting by with one bag per week. He also noted the town did not charge for recycling
Smith said in 2012, one private hauler— Waste Management— charged $530 per year for a 95-gallon container per week. No yard waste was accepted and recycling pickup is done separately. Smith said the price is lower today-$526—but the size of the barrel has dropped dramatically to 64 gallons. He said it was easy to see the tremendous economic advantage in going with the town’s plan versus curbside pickup.
He reminded his listeners the transfer station is completely different from the town’s general fund in that it must be self support—in other words, revenues must equal expenses. If this is not working out, the town must either raise revenues or cut the expenses and this was one of the reasons why the town raised the sticker fee by $10 last year.
Smith said in fiscal 2012, the town cleared $4,700 and lost $4,300 the following year. He said the difference was the money the town made off recycling-$18,900 in 2012 versus $11,592 the next. Recycling revenue was basically the same in 2014, coming to $11,571, but the town cleared nearly $19,000 overall. The town administrator attributed this to increasing the cost of 1,000 stickers by $10, noting the sticker revenue was up close to $10,000. Smith said the recycling was affected by “market driven rates” and the town had no control over any of that. He also credited the job Arsenault was doing in making sure everyone using the station had a sticker.
The town administrator noted that the amount of municipal solid waste has been decreasing over the last three years—from 547 tons in 2011, to 529 tons in 2012 and to 512 tons in 2013. Smith said it was still too early to have final figures for FY 2014.
He added that the recycling rate has also gone up—from 40 percent in FY2011 to 42 percent in FY 2012 to 47 percent in FY 2013 and this was happening in concert with the amount of trash going down. “This is what we like to see,” said Smith adding that the town pays Wheelabrator $78 per ton for anything it throws away. He added that the recycling rate did not include recycled clothing, batteries, oil, yard waste, tires, CRTs (of which there were 700 pounds), swap items, and recyclable cans and bottles.
He said he had two recommendations for the Board. The first was to establish a transfer station five-year capital plan with the focus on replacing compactor bodies and engines. The other was to keep the sticker fee at $40. “We seem to be making money at that rate,” said Smith.
Smith said Arsenault has been working at the transfer station for about a year and has “turned around the operation.” Smith said things had been running smooth before under John Marsh’s direction but Arsenault had taken it “to a higher level and making sure that people comply with the rules.”
Selectman Michael Chizy said he got down to the transfer station about every other week because he didn’t have that much trash. He said he always sees Arsenault checking stickers and helping anyone who needs it, even “helping old people like me once in a while…It’s a real nice operation and I commend him for it.”
Selectman David Hall noted bag revenues seemed to be going up while the amount of trash was going down. He said this was not what he expected. Smith said bag revenues have remained relatively steady while sticker revenue has gone up. Smith said some residents have dumped illegally in some years by not using the official bags because there was very little oversight. If people weren’t using the bags, the town was losing money.
Selectman Paul Maynard said he uses the transfer station and has seen Arsenault helping people. He said one particular customer was “flabbergasted” by the quality of the help he received from Arsenault. Selectman Ken Stuart said there had been a drop in revenue the previous year and Arsenault had obviously made a huge difference. He asked Smith if the profit gets rolled back into the budget and Smith said that it is the equivalent of free cash.
Stuart asked how much compactor bodies cost and Smith said Lyman Rosebrook has done a fantastic job welding the compactor bodies but they were nearing the end of their life expectancy. Smith said they did not know the cost but they would find out soon.