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Town and Village

Town raises bag fees for pay-as-you-throw

VERNON—Vernon’s response to Act 148, Vermont’s “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) trash and recycling bill, offers a prime example of what happens when a plan is too good.

In July 2014, the town switched its regular municipal rubbish pick-up to a PAYT system — a full year ahead of the date the Legislature demanded. Residents participating in the town’s curbside service had to put their garbage in special bags purchased from the town; recyclables and compost would also be picked up, but did not require special bags and levied no extra fee.

The good news is, according to Heather Frost of Vernon’s Recycling Committee, “the residents in town are doing an excellent job [with] recycling and composting."

But, as she told the Selectboard at their Jan. 18 meeting, the success “kind of is a negative thing.” Frost explained the town’s rubbish revenue stream is based on PAYT bag sales, so, “the less trash we have, the less money we get."

The bottom line: the Vernon Solid Waste Fund is operating at a loss. “If we continue in this manner, as of the end of the budget year, June 30, 2017, [the fund] would be in a deficit of approximately $12,000,” Frost said.

Three of the four members of the recycling committee — Cheryl Franklin, Heather Frost, and Peggy Frost — attended the board meeting to offer possible solutions to the growing deficit.

Some of the changes the three discussed with board members were charging more for the PAYT bags, billing each household an annual recycling fee, ending all town-wide curbside pickup, ceasing town-wide curbside recyclables pickup, selling compost bags, and collecting trash every other week.

Board Chair Christiane Howe suggested adding an article to Town Meeting to “replenish [the Solid Waste] fund,” but Franklin reminded her that, under Act 148, no taxes can be used to pay for trash collection and disposal.

After weighing a variety of factors, including what is allowed under Act 148, the board unanimously decided to raise the price of PAYT bags by $2 per bag, effective immediately, and to explore collecting trash every other week.

Board member Emily Vergobbe characterized the decision as “a happy medium,” which would increase revenue, and possibly decrease expenses in the future.

Josh Unruh, who also serves on the Selectboard, noted that even with the price of PAYT bags going up, “it’s still much cheaper” for households to utilize curbside pickup than a private trash service.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #343 (Wednesday, February 10, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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