|Tyer Holding Public Meetings On Toter Proposal|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
12:02PM / Thursday, January 25, 2018
|Mayor Linda Tyer is bringing toters to the people over the next month in hopes to convince them the system will benefit them. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer is taking the toters to the street.
The mayor has scheduled four neighborhood meetings to further discuss the proposal to overhaul curbside trash pickup by implementing a toter program. The mayor feels that what has been lost during the most recent debate on the issue is the direct impacts the plan will have on residents' day to day lives.
"I feel what has gotten lost in the conversation is what does it mean for people in their everyday lives. That's what will be the primary focus of our neighborhood meetings," Tyer said on Thursday.
The Tyer administration provided plenty of information regarding the costs, the tonnage of solid waste, contracts, and recycling numbers in regards to the proposed toter system over the last 18 months. But the city councilors heard concerns about the sizes, about getting the trash toters down the driveway, about how certain roads would be picked up -- questions about the impacts on the day to day routine.
Tyer believes that the toters will actually make it easier for homeowners but residents hadn't really gotten a chance to see and experience that. Instead of carrying out the recycling bin, for example, the new toter will have wheels for easier transportation. She feels the sizes of the toters are large enough for the great majority of families. She says there are plans in place to help the seniors and those with disabilities.
"People are not compelled to change because we've studied the tonnage. We want to bring the toters right to the neighborhoods. Here is what they look like, here is how they feel, here is how many bags of garbage you can fit into them, here is the single-stream recycling toter and here is why we feel single-stream is better," Tyer said. "It is that sort of thing. They just don't have enough information for what does it mean for me and my daily routine."
She will have the toters, trash bags, and other props as she takes her plan directly to residents. The administration plans to keep a record of input and hopes to resolve some of the anxiety residents have voiced about the plan.
"I understand a change of this magnitude can create anxiety among residents because people are busy. They're working, they are raising their families, they are volunteering, they are taking care of aging parents, and garbage is part of a daily routine that people can just do blindly without much thought. The idea we might be proposing a change to that routine could create anxiety," Tyer said.
"My goal in our neighborhood meetings is to reassure people that we are actually going to make it easier, not harder."
Eventually, Tyer said she may return to the City Council with the same exact proposal. But, she could also receive ideas from residents to make the plan better. At the end of the meetings, the administration will re-assess the proposal.
The plan has been in the works for a year and a half and hits five goals of the administration. The plan will save money from year to year. It intends to be environmentally friendly by increasing the city's recycling rate from the dismal 11 percent. It is a modernization of the system.
"We celebrate innovation when our businesses do things that are new and modern. Government needs to be doing the same thing right alongside the businesses," Tyer said.
It also combats blight and ensures public health, making the neighborhoods look better with uniform toters instead of piles of trash bags. And the system will create equity among taxpayers.
"We may have a senior that puts out one or two bags of trash and a neighbor up the road puts out eight bags of trash. The equity of the taxpayer dollars in that scenario is out of balance," Tyer said. "Everybody is going to get to put out the same amount of trash and if you need to put out more, we've built systems for that too."
The plan would give all residents a 45-gallon toter for waste and 96-gallon toter for recycling. If a resident needs more than 45 gallons, then overflow bags will be for sale. The concept would reduce the amount of trash the city pays to dispose of, which estimates have shown will drop the disposal cost somewhere between $90,000 and $200,000 depending on how much trash is reduced.
Those savings would be seen in the annual budget, but the upfront $1.4 million became a major talking point among the council. Many felt the upfront costs weren't worth the savings.
"We can leave no stone unturned when it comes to cost containment. And sometimes saving money requires an upfront cost," Tyer said.
"Let's talk about it in terms of how people think about their own homeownership. You've got rising energy costs and it is partly due to the fact that you've got old windows. So you put an upfront cost to replace the windows so over the long run you can lower your energy costs. That's what we are doing with this proposal. We are putting an upfront cost so we can save money in the long run."
Tyer added that the upfront cost would come from grants and free cash, money the citizens have already paid in taxes and not an addition to the tax rate.
The council wasn't necessarily against the concept of changing garbage collection but just felt this program wasn't right. Tyer, however, still believes in the plan and hopes to alleviate many of the concerns that may not have been thoroughly addressed at this point. The council had even suggested holding some type of town hall-style meeting with residents.
"We proposed what we believed, after an 18-month assessment, a bold plan with how to better manage solid waste and recycling in our city. It has stumbled a bit in the process and I still stand by this plan," Tyer said.
"I think after the work that was done by the Resource Recovery Committee, the Green Commission, the Board of Health, the internal working group, that we still have a solid plan."