Greenfield residents: Trash privatization idea stinks

  • Michael Mallett of the Greenfield Department of Public Works exits one of the DPW’s trash collecting trucks. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/26/2018 11:02:59 PM

GREENFIELD — Aging vehicles, rising costs and a dilapidated building at the Transfer Station have led the city to consider privatizing trash service in Greenfield, though some residents are not so keen on the idea.

“I’ve been here for a little more than three years now, and it’s been on the agenda since I got here, so it’s always been in the background, and it’s now gaining a little bit more steam,” Department of Public Works Director Don Ouellette said. “We’re still just taking a look and trying to do what’s best for the town.”

Ouellette said two of the city’s eight trash trucks are no longer roadworthy, and two more will need to be replaced in the coming years. The rising cost of trash disposal, which increased from $56 to $73 per ton during the city’s last negotiations, as well as the decaying condition of the building at the Transfer Station, are also factors the city will consider in its decision.

“Very few towns today still do full pick-up and trash removal, and we’re beginning to get to that point where we have to make a decision on which direction we have to go in,” Ouellette said. “It’s definitely worth us looking at — whether or not we actually pull the trigger and do something like this is still up in the air, but if we don’t, a serious conversation has to be had about what it takes to run this transfer station another 20 to 30 years and what the costs are going to be.”

Ouellette said part of the problem stems from the fact that the city hasn’t invested much money in the transfer station, which has been running the same way for the past 20 years. He said the site is likely out of compliance from a safety standpoint, as residents will occasionally back their vehicles into the pit by accident.

“They usually get one or two vehicles a year that slip down into that. It’s a liability from that standpoint,” he said.

But at a recent Town Council meeting, several residents spoke against the idea of privatizing trash services.

David Cohen said the city should hold public hearings on the idea, saying it’s very serious to do away with town services. Dorothy McIver agreed, saying she’s concerned about the amount of privatization happening in the country and the loss of accountability that goes along with it.

“We know that right next door we have a community that’s not satisfied with what’s happening, so it’s not something to take lightly,” she said of Montague, where many residents voiced complaints after a private contractor failed to collect trash after recent snowstorms.

In a letter to the council, Tanya Every wrote that privatizing trash pickup would most likely result in poorer service and higher cost to the taxpayers. Every also questioned what recourse taxpayers would have if the contractor didn’t perform or wanted to increase fees.

“The claims of vast savings by privatizing services generally turn out to be overblown or nonexistent,” she wrote.

Ouellette said the DPW intends to have a full discussion with the council, mayor and residents about any proposed changes. He said it’s still uncertain which services would be privatized if the town decides to go that route, as the change could be partial or full.

“People get a misrepresentative view of how expensive running the transfer station is. They see they’re only paying $1.50 or $2 a bag, but the truth is a lot of that cost up there is absorbed in the tax rate,” Ouellette said. If we’re going to continue to do this, there’s going to have to be a significant investment up there.”

He said the city currently pays around $350,000 to $400,000 for trash service. If it were to be funded properly, Ouellette said it would cost about $800,000 a year.

If trash service is privatized, Ouellette said the seven or eight employees who currently work at the transfer station would be absorbed into the DPW, and those jobs would be eliminated as workers leave or retire.

He added that the DPW is planning to go to a four-day trash pickup schedule beginning sometime in the spring. Thursday and Friday’s pickup will likely be combined, meaning trash would be picked up Monday through Thursday. On weeks with a Monday holiday, it would be picked up Tuesday through Friday.


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