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Pittsfield Council Says 'No' to 'Pay As You Throw' Trash
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
06:09PM / Thursday, February 18, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council is not ready to adopt a pay-as-you-throw, or PAYT,  trash system.
 
"Now is not the time to be talking trash during a pandemic," Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said.
 
At a second Committee of the Whole meeting, the council on Wednesday debated the proposed PAYT solid waste system for more than three hours and eventually voted to table it 7-4 with Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell, Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio opposing.
 
Morandi, Connell, and Maffuccio have vocalized their stance against the PAYT system in the past and, last week, Morandi and Connell requested that the Resource Recovery Committee send back a 2019 recycling education plan that was first drafted by the councilors in 2018.
 
Councilor at Large Peter White made a motion to amend the PAYT system to begin on July 1, 2022, which passed 8-3 with Connell, Morandi, and Maffuccio voting in opposition.
 
PAYT was proposed as an option by President Peter Marchetti, White, and Councilor at Large Earl Persip III.  In the program contracted with WasteZero, residents would be provided with 104 15-gallon bags free each year at cost and any additional bags would be purchased for $1.50 per 30-gallon bag and $0.80 per 15-gallon bag.
 
After a detailed presentation last Wednesday from Steve Lisauskas, vice president of government affairs for WasteZero, Maffuccio called a charter objection, postponing voting on the matter until this meeting a week later.
 
Marchetti began the second meeting by apologizing to members of the council for ruling in favor of Mafuccio's charter objection.  After consulting with City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta, Marchetti said, he realized his ruling was not valid because charter objections are not valid during a subcommittee meeting.
 
Lisauskas was invited back to the Committee of The Whole to give another presentation on PAYT through WasteZero, which works with about 100 communities in Massachusetts.  He reminded the council that residents are currently paying for solid waste through their taxes, but the purpose of the proposal changes how people pay to change how much solid waste they put out.
 
For disposal and processing, Pittsfield residents are currently paying about $1.5 million a year, Lisauskas explained, but under the proposed trash system that number would drop to $1.3 million a year.
 
With the provided PAYT trash bags, residents would be permitted 30 gallons of trash a week before they have to purchase their own bags. This is reportedly the average amount of solid waste for PAYT customers.
 
In a rewards program through PAYT, residents are estimated to save between $1 million and $1.5 million a year while supporting local businesses, reducing trash, and improving the environment. Lisauskas said the money saved with this system can be freed for public safety, public education, public works, reduced taxes, or any applicable avenue the city finds fitting.
 
Marchetti said this concept became a reality because of Morandi's ordinance that was passed in 2019. The proposal concerned him because of its 64 gallons per household per week limit with no flexibility. Fearing for where the excess trash would end up, Marchetti sought solutions for a program without limits.
 
Most councilors agreed that the city has a solid waste problem, but have opposing views on solutions and believe there is much more to discuss the proposed trash system.
 
Persip explained that this petition was brought forward to spark discussion, recognizing that he, Marchetti and White think PAYT is the right path and that other council members don't agree.
 
He made it clear that the councilors do not want to start the new system until after the novel COVID-19 pandemic is over.
 
"I think everyone who goes forward in this discussion thinking 'it's not just pay as you throw but as an overall rehaul of how we handle trash in the city of Pittsfield' I think we could actually get something done," Persip said. "I know it's a news flash and we are in a pandemic, we all know that we all understand that.  We know this is not the time to start this program, but this is the time to start the discussion."
 
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said she cannot support the PAYT system because in part because of the hardships that exist within the city of Pittsfield.  For some people just trying to survive, she said, buying a trash bag could be something that pushes them over the edge and she feels the council is not considering that population.
 
"I was one of the petitioners that asked WasteZero to do a presentation a couple of years ago and I believed in what they were selling and I honestly feel like I am not in that same position anymore," Moon said. "We had this year of watching the homelessness crisis in the city of Pittsfield, we have had ongoing debates and conversations about our low-income populations and our at-risk population and those people who are really living on the fringes and that's where my concern really lies."
 
Maffuccio also has a problem with the financial burden this system would put on residents if they exceed the limit of solid waste.
 
"Out of 14 counties, 39 cities, 312 towns in Massachusetts, Pittsfield is listed No. 16 of the poorest communities to live in," he said. "There's no way that science can even anticipate when this pandemic is going to end so it's hard to separate having a conversation about garbage disposal, the effect it will have on the general public during a pandemic, and then after a pandemic."
 
Morandi pointed out that the petition from Marchetti, White, and Persip is requesting to implement the PAYT system, not just discuss it.
 
"It's not starting a conversation about trash, it's wanting to go to a pay-as-you-throw system." He said.
 
Morandi believed the proposal is missing public input, which is a key component. Not one of the emails he has gotten about the PAYT system is in favor, he said, and there are a lot of elderly people in the city who are not being listened to because they can't access city meetings through Zoom.  
 
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo asked Lisauskas if economically disadvantaged communities could be subsidized with Community Development Block Grant funds for the cost of additional PAYT bags.
 
Lisauskas said communities use block grant money to cover the cost of bags in certain housing facilities where funding is readily accessible, but added that this program can be designed to meet any priority the city has.
 
"Many of the challenges one hears of a program like this are just simply design questions," he added.
 
Maffuccio said there are people crying out to the council — especially from Wards 1, 2, 5, and 7 — to stop the implementation of this system.
 
"Ward 7 elected me to be their representative, their clear message on this initiative is 'absolutely no,'" he concluded.  "The more we talk about this, I don't see any good coming out of this."
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