SHIRLEY -- When a resident questioned a sharp rise in cost for trash pickup at Annual Town Meeting Monday night, Board of Health Chairman Jay Howlett was ready with an answer. In a word: recycling.
"Why will it cost $65,000 more than last year?" the resident asked.
With the town's three-year contract with E.L. Harvey set to expire at the end of June, the health board plans to re-up for another year, since they are satisfied with the service, Howlett said, but the price went up by four percent.
Fueling the overall cost hike, tonnage went up along with the hauler's increase, he said. But the worst hit was recycling, which used to be provided free by the hauler, who then sold the materials to recoup costs.
That's not the case now.
China, which had accepted almost all of the United States' recycling materials, will stop doing so as of June 1, Howlett said. "Now, we pay $74 per ton for it," he said, adding $19,000 to the bottom line.
If the market opens up and the hauler can sell the recyclables again, perhaps to India or some other country, if not China, the town gets a do-over to reflect the change, Howlett said. "It's in the contract." Which is why the health board opted for a one-year deal this time versus the typical three years.
But another resident wondered why the board doesn't opt out of the trash collecting business altogether. "Can't we just privatize," he asked. "Wouldn't that be cheaper?"
"We do have independent contractors -- about eight or 10 -- who come in, but the bags are cheaper," Howlett said.
Shirley instituted a pay-per-bag program several years ago to offset the cost of town-wide, curbside trash pickup, with free recycling, which was not only a bonus but an incentive to reduce the bag load and cut consumer costs. "We believe it's the best way for the town to go," he said.
But the resident countered that the program doesn't exactly pay for itself. "We pay in our property taxes, plus the bags," he said.
Resident Tim Hatch zeroed in on the "retained earnings" part of the picture. It comes from pay-per-bag revenues and is used as needed, but "will it be there next year as well?" he said. "It's not sustainable."
Interim Town Administrator Rocco Longo said the account gets verified annually, with a balance of $169,300 at the end of FY2018. After tapping it this year, there's $113,436 left, he said.
Finance Committee Chairman John O'Keefe said Hatch's assumption was correct. "We agree this process isn't sustainable," he said. "We've agreed to reassess for next year."
Meanwhile, the current set-up works well, according to one resident who gave it high marks. "I'm very happy with the program," she said. "It keeps our community clean and healthful, and its convenient."