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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

PAYT Concerns

I have a few concerns about Pay As You Thow  implementation for our town. Although I completely agree that we all need to be responsible for our own waste, I hope we can be very careful about how we choose to create this program. Some of the selectboard members have made comments that indicate an interest in possibly removing this line item from our budget completely and passing those costs directly to our townspeople. In other posts on this site there have been comments about how this is a cost shift and that is true in a number of different ways that we really need to pay attention to. 

Currently, our municipal taxes pay for our trash pickup. It is a line item in our municipal budget, and all of the grand list is assessed the tax. That means that businesses contribute to this cost even though our businesses are responsible for providing their own waste disposal. If we go to a PAYT program that is not part of our municipal budget, we will see a reduction of our municipal tax but each homeowner will most likely be paying more since there is no subsidy from our businesses on the grand list. Businesses will have a tax reduction with no corresponding increase in costs. 

Speaking of subsidies, an analysis of our town by the Finance Committee showed that more than two-thirds of our property taxpayers are receiving a subsidy from the state to offset their property tax bill. This includes the school portion and the overall cap (circuit breaker) that includes the municipal tax to help protect lower income households from the high costs of the property taxes. If we go to a PAYT system that is outside the municipal tax, these tax subsidies for low income folks will disappear and these homeowners will have to pay the full amount of the cost of trash removal. For these taxpayers, the business subsidy AND the state subsidy will potentially be gone. 

To put this into rough numbers, we are projected to pay around $1 million for our municipal waste expenses for 2015. Since we have approximately 2,700 households that comes out to approximately $370 per household.  I know that some people on this site have commented that such a number is no big deal, a little over a dollar a day so we can do without that cup of coffee. But from my perspective, it means everyone who is a wage owner has to earn over $500 to pay this or about one entire paycheck (or more) for a lot of our townspeople. 

 And, don't forget, those water and sewer bills that are slated to rise significantly in the coming years to pay for that shiny new infrastructure, and there is no state property tax subsidy to help with that either. 


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While we list concerns

I'd add another: an introductory period of free compost bins supplied to residents. (Currently $7-$10 fee)

I offer it as a HINT to the 33% who never have problems paying for basic needs. It would be nice and helpful to the other 66%, and would make adoption go more smoothly.


More Concerns

Several years ago, when I was still a Town Meeting Representative, I spoke against PAYT. My main issue was not PAYT, but the lack of ways to reduce the flow of material that was taxable. My views were not heeded at that meeting, but I also helped to fund the campaign for a recall vote on this issue, and fortunately my side prevailed because we now have an improved recycling program as well as composting collection. Folks who conscientiously adhere to these alternatives can seriously reduce the cost of PAYT. I never dispose of more than a small bag of refuse that is taxable, and I know that I can do better. Moss Kahler did a good job organizing these alternatives.

Now, we have a state mandated PAYT, supported by some of our local legislators. This concerns me, but that is another story. I do have another suggestion regarding large items. Today, some folks are disposing of sofas, mattresses, appliances, etc. by dumping them beside the road because they cannot afford the fee at the landfill. I find the fee reasonable, but some folks just cannot afford the cost of hauling and disposal. I understand that. In my old neighborhood, people would just dispose of unwanted items by tossing them over an embankment by my home. A neighbor and I would climb down the embankment and haul these items up to the curb, where a town truck would haul them away. My suggestion is a reasonable sticker system for large items. People could purchase the sticker and identify their location. Once a month the town would pay public works employees to pick up the items and haul them to the recycling center. It works in other communities and could work here.

Anyway, That was the last item that I proposed on the day that I spoke against PAYT.


Same fees for everyone, different impact

Charging the same fee across the board for these trash bags won't impact much on the folks who can give up 2 take-away coffees a week. But for those of us who already can't afford any take-away coffees any time this will have an impact. $300 a year isn't much to someone with an income of $50K a year, but if your income is $12K it's a much larger portion of what you have to live on. With the continual rises in food and petroleum products I foresee harder times ahead. The old arguments against PAYT still apply, but have fallen on willfully deaf ears in Montpelier.


Seconded. If you have already given up takeaway coffee, period,

$300 out of your annual earnings, after taxes as noted, will take a bite out of other things a lot more crucial than takeaway coffee to your and/or your kids' health and well-being.

+ As just one of many examples, for yourself, your dental care or a health care expense you choose to forgo so as to save a copay or a because of a high deductible you can't afford (as obamacare "offers" to many people whose incomes are just above qualifying for medicaid)

+ As just one of many examples, for your kids, any of the elements of a good education that cost "a bit extra," including your time to drive your kids to activities--time you can't give because you have to work two low-paying jobs to make ends meet

But "We must ALL sacrifice," we have been told. :)


Local PAYT debate is still valid

"The old arguments against PAYT still apply, but have fallen on willfully deaf ears in Montpelier."

That's very true, and maybe the local legislators who supported Act 148 should be held accountable in the upcoming election.

But there's still room for local decision making - the law says there must be a "variable rate pricing system" based on the "volume or weight" of the waste being collected. It doesn't say "based on the full cost of disposal." Nothing in the law says that the town can't subsidize the cost, or to what degree the cost can/can't be subsidized.

Additionally, Act 148 guidance from VANR suggests that municipalities can have reduced rates for people with lower incomes.

Given voters' repeated actions against PAYT in Brattleboro, you'd hope the selectboard would have the good sense to continue to subsidize solid waste disposal to a significant degree. Or, instead of hoping, people could tell selectboard members what they expect them to do.


Right, and thanks for reminding everyone

Municipalities have options.

The Brattleboro Selectboard has been talking about this round of PAYT as if there is a single way to do this - i.e., cover full costs of the waste disposal line items. I have yet to hear them mention variable pricing based on income, or any form of subsidy. In their defense, they are just embarking on this path and are awaiting a plan from a paid (ahem) consultant and citizen advisory board.



Certainly we should all be concerned with added costs in these difficult budgetary times. Brattleboro is one of very few towns in VT that has paid the full cost of solid waste disposal for single-family residences and small apartment buildings over the years. Between transportation costs and tipping fees we have spent close to a million dollars some years for this free 'service'.

Considering that the only operating landfill in Vermont is in Coventry (a few miles from Canada) and tipping fees and hauling costs are going up it is increasingly necessary to find ways to cut costs. PAYT/unit pricing has been found to raise consciousness of waste producers (us) in the community and has led to reduced volume/weight of trash. Composting and recycling also reduce costs and environmental impact.

As a homeowner I would much rather buy a couple dozen bags a year and take the costs of trash disposal off of my taxes. People who rent in larger apartment complexes and business owners are currently paying twice - once through taxes and again through hiring a private hauler. Switching everyone over to PAYT - as in done in all the surrounding towns - creates a fairer system that reduces waste, recycles resources, and saves money.

Landlords who will save money when taxes no longer support the cost of trash pickup could consider passing those savings on to their tenants. The town can offer a subsidized program for people who cannot afford the full cost of the PAYT bags. In my experience, many of the most resourceful people in our community are those with limited financial resources.

PAYT is inevitable now that state law mandates it. It is the right thing to do environmentally, financially and practically. The work done by Moss Kahler, Triple-T and others to establish the curbside compost program puts Brattleboro well ahead of the curve in reducing waste and easing the financial problems in our the community.


Full Cost or Just Tipping Fees?

Back when this was proposed before, the special bags were only expected to defray the cost of tipping fees, not the full cost of waste disposal. The tipping fees then were about $300,000 a year, so if the new PAYT tax is similar to what Brattleboro had earlier contemplated, then there would still be another $600,000 to $700,000 a year to make up somehow. On the other hand, if we're trying to raise $1,000,000 on specially priced bags alone, it seems to me those bags are going to get expensive....

Can someone who knows clarify this for me? What will the new program cover? The full cost or just the tipping fees? The difference is substantial. To make $300,000, we'd need to sell 120,000 special trash bags at $2.50 per bag, or about 10 bags for every person who lives in town (not every household). If we're trying to make a million dollars on bag sales alone, that would mean 400,000 bags (at $2.50 each) which comes to about 33 bags per person living in Brattleboro. Either my math and logic are all wrong, or we're going to have to either buy a lot of bags or sell them at pretty high rate.


PAYT details

I don't see anywhere in my post where I suggested tripling the amount of money to be raised by the sale of PAYT bags. Those details will be discussed as implementation moves forward.

I am concerned by the calls for subsidizing the cost of waste pickup/disposal in these tough times. People in surrounding towns pay the whole cost of their trash - either by paying a private hauler or taking it themselves to their transfer station and paying a fee based upon the actual cost of disposal.

Every tax penny we pay to subsidize the pickup and disposal of trash reduces the incentive to reduce the waste stream. A study was done in New York City a few years back. Renters whose electricity was included in their rent used much more electricity than those who paid for the actual amount they used as measured by an individual metering system. When people had their electric bill covered by their rent they did things like keep their apartment at 65 degrees in the summer so the could come home to a blast of cold air.

'Reduce, reuse and recycle' should be rewarded consistently. We have created the infrastructure to accomplish these goals. Now let's add the incentives.


Understood but still have questions

I agree that charging for trash will induce some, maybe most, to reduce their trash as much as they can but I'm still wondering how much we have to raise -- the whole shebang or just tipping?


Fairness, not "subsidizing"

What I raise is the issue of fairness. Someone with an income of $60k per year is in a much better situation to afford a $6 trash bag than someone on a $12k income.

Brattleboro is not like surrounding towns. We have a population of 12,000 and mostly low-paying jobs with nearly half the population being renters and many multi-apartment buildings. Are there any studies/stats for this implementation in analogous towns?

Will this lead to folks holding trash for weeks causing health and vermin issues? Will we see trash dumped along the roads and in vacant lots? Will people begin burning in barrels again? Will businesses find their dumpsters filling in the night? All these questions came up last time and Brattleboro voted down PAYT because of them.

I think I can safely say that landlords will not be passing on any tax savings they get, if in fact that even occurs, which I doubt.

A sliding scale is fair and will more likely work. Period.


It's up to the selectboard

There's no way to know what Brattleboro's PAYT will cover at this point; as I understand the discussion, the town has yet to determine what costs PAYT will cover. I think you'll find, contrary to what has been stated in this thread, that solid waste fees in other local towns are partially subsidized through property taxes.

Reducing the budget by $1 million in Brattleboro would yield a savings on the tax rate of about 9 cents, which would mean a $90 reduction in taxes for every $100k of property value. The math suggests that if the full $1 million cost of solid waste disposal was the basis for the PAYT fee, and it were to be paid by residents, the average annual cost for each of Brattleboro's 3,300 residential households would be about $300 - so PAYT would be an overall savings for people residents who own properties valued at about $350,000 or more. Of course, the more your property is worth and the less you throw away, the better the savings.

The cost per bag would probably be higher than you suggest. Say each of Brattleboro's 3,300 households throws away two bags of trash per week (seems like a lot to me, but I think that's the average) then you'll have to charge about $3 per bag to raise the $300 per year from each household to raise $1 million. If every household throws away one bag per week, you'll have to charge about $6 per bag to raise $1 million. Of course, if everyone reduces their waste to an average of 1 bag per week, the total cost would probably be under $1 million, so maybe you'd only have to pay, say, $4 or $5 per bag (some solid waste costs are fixed, so reducing output by half wouldn't necessarily reduce cost by the same amount).

The tax reduction & cost is proportional, so the more you reduce one, the more you reduce the other. In other words, if the town decides to pay half of their solid waste costs with PAYT, you'll cut $500k from the budget, the tax savings would be $45 per $100k, but those who have houses worth $350k or more will still be the ones who realize the benefit of a tax reduction that outweighs the increased cost.

As a homeowner, I'd rather have businesses, vacation home owners, and owners of large for-profit apartment buildings helping to share the cost waste disposal for the community, personally. But those who own highly valued properties, and those who perceive a gain by reducing their waste output below the average may feel differently. And I think it's clear that some people believe PAYT is virtuous. But I don't find a regressive tax particularly virtuous, myself.


Status quo or innovation?

Are you arguing for keeping things just as they are? How will we deal with the Montpelier mandate? I do see opportunities to negotiate a balance between public subsidy and user fee. It does not have to be all one way or the other.

Is trash disposal a public good or a personal responsibility? We have had a system for years in Brattleboro with no incentives for reducing there trash stream. We are committed to enforcing the recycling ordinance, but that is a punishment system not an incentive system.

I think people are far more resourceful than defenders of the status quo might suggest. Maybe businesses should be taxed on products with packaging that cannot be recycled. Why should taxpayers pay to dispose of packaging that is fundamentally a convenience to businesses?


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