By Amelia Pak-Harvey
AYER -- Residents put up a strong defense of the town's transfer station last Thursday night at a public input meeting on a possible townwide trash-pickup service.
It was the first of two scheduled meetings as the Department of Public Works looks into the possibility of curbside waste disposal.
About 100 residents came to ask and listen to many questions on the topic. DPW Superintendent Mark Wetzel did not have too many definitive answers, however, because the idea is still being explored.
There was general hesitation on an exact cost for the service, although Wetzel noted that the DPW currently has a solid waste budget of $492,000, which includes operating costs for the transfer station and the brush dump.
Approximately 1,100 residents opt for private curbside-pickup service, paying in total $400,000 to $500,000 a year.
With those combined costs, Wetzel reasoned, the town pays about $1 million for solid-waste removal every year.
The curbside program could take on many forms, including a "pay-as-you-throw" fee schedule, a flat annual fee or a combination of a minimum fee with additional costs for throwing away more than a set amount.
Michael Pattenden -- a candidate for selectman -- came out adamantly against the idea. He said it is more expensive and that most people in town feel that way as well.
He was among a few residents who also cited traffic and safety concerns with pickup, and said that the idea was just not a good one.
"I want to see the trucks stopped at the end of my driveway and pick up my trash without getting smashed in two with an 18-wheeler," he said. "It's going to be a very interesting experience."
Pattenden said he wants to see more definitive figures and regrets that the meeting was held so early.
"It seems to me that the idea of going to curbside pickup is a done deal, and all the rest of it is just to justify that decision," he said to applause.
Selectman Jannice Livingston corrected Pattenden, emphasizing that pickup is not a "done deal," and that it's up to the voters to decide if they want to close the transfer station.
"We want to get the information so that you at least know what it is that you're going to look at, which is why we're going to have another meeting and we can be able to tell you more," she said.
Selectman Christopher Hillman said if there are no cost savings in adopting the service, it would make no sense.
Cynthia Lefave, who lives on Old Farm Way, said she supports trash pickup as long as it doesn't cost more. She signs up for private pickup.
"I have a baby, and I'm not bringing my dirty diapers in my car," she said.
But her concern is over a possible increase in pricing.
"Is there a lock-in pricing?" she asked. "I've had my price go up $100 in four years, and I'm not going to stop. I'm not going to go to the dump."
Christine Ball of Sandy Pond Road took a stand for seniors, questioning whether they would get a discount, as they do now for access to the transfer station.
"To add money on top of what they're already stretched to do -- they can't do it," she said.
Ball added that her daughter, who lives in Bedford and has trash pickup, said there is a problem with overflowing trash from a neighbor's barrel rolling onto other properties.
Edwin Bloom of Pingry Way warned that he went through this same process when he lived in Concord and the town switched to curbside pickup. The cost, he said, went up about five times more than what he had been paying to bring trash to the transfer station.
He thanked Ball for bringing up the topic of seniors, because he said he has noticed costs go up as his income goes down.
"If I have to pay five times more to have my trash taken care of than it is now, that is going to be a strain," he said.
He added that his daughter in Shirley told him costs for her pickup service have gone up from what she had been paying for the town's transfer station.
"I think everybody should expect that whatever the beginning cost is, that's not the ending cost," he said.
Wetzel said the schedule is, hopefully, to receive a request for proposals from trash haulers in May, then hold another public meeting in June or July. The Board of Selectmen could receive a recommendation sometime in the fall.
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