Vergennes recycling center could be shut down

VERGENNES — The future of the Vergennes recycling and trash drop-off center is in doubt after city officials learned this past Tuesday that Casella Inc. in July would increase by 47 percent the cost of processing recycling brought to the center.
That increase, due to larger market forces, would boost the annual cost of the Canal Street center — an expense that is shared by the surrounding towns of Ferrisburgh, Panton, Waltham and Addison — by about $34,600 to roughly $107,600, according to City Manager Mel Hawley.
Vergennes pays half the center’s cost, Ferrisburgh foots 20 percent of the bill, and the other three towns pay 10 percent apiece.
Hawley said paying Casella to haul recyclables to a transfer station and pay processing fees are the center’s only expenses. Vergennes contracts with a private trash hauler to set up shop onsite, and residents of the five communities can pay $3 per bag to leave trash, with no charge for recycling.
“There’s no other cost involved with it,” Hawley said.
The situation is complicated because the other towns budgeted for the coming fiscal year (July 2018 to June 2019) in March, while the Vergennes City Council is just beginning to work on its spending plan for the coming year.
“This is a real problem,” Hawley said, adding that simply shutting the center could cause “complete chaos,” in part because people would have to scramble to find companies to provide curbside service.
By Vermont law, curbside trash haulers have to take recycling at no extra charge, but costs typically run higher than those at the city recycling center, although Hawley estimated about half of the city’s households choose curbside service due to convenience.
For example, Hawley brings his trash to the center, while Mayor Renny Perry pays for curbside service.
“There are many residents of Vergennes who love the recycling center,” Hawley said.
At the May 22 council meeting officials agreed a meeting with surrounding towns had to be organized as soon as possible.
Cheryl Brinkman, the city’s representative to the Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD), said the city should not simply shut the center down, but rather sit down with its neighbors first to work on a “closure plan.”  
“Doing something drastic I don’t think is the way to go,” Brinkman said, adding, “We (ACSWMD) are starting the planning process to help the communities that are struggling with this issue.”
Brinkman said ACSWMD is working on long-term solutions, with one possibility creating regional trash and recycling drop-off locations that would allow residents, not just haulers, to bring in materials.
ACSWMD Manager Terri Kuczynski said on Wednesday the district is eyeing the Vergennes-Ferrisburgh area for such a site, but that a search for a location could not begin until approved at the ACSWMD board’s June meeting.
Kuczynski hopes the city center can remain open long enough to allow that option or another one to emerge for Vergennes-area residents.
“More time would be great,” she said, calling trash and recycling handling “a utility” for which even the 47-percent price increase could be absorbed, at least in the short term, if it were spread over the city’s 1,100 households.
But Hawley at the meeting said there was also “an equity issue,” because of the households and businesses that don’t use the center are paying doubly for recycling through both taxes and curbside pickup bills.
“There is some unfairness going on here,” he said.
Another option, Hawley said on Tuesday, would be allowing a private hauler to set up shop on Canal Street rather than have the city involved (although the city would still be the landlord). Both Hawley and Perry acknowledged on Wednesday a switch to curbside pickup could be a long-term solution.
In the short term, Hawley said the meeting with the other towns has to happen quickly. If any choose to pull out, the city’s costs will go even higher.
“We have four other selectboards involved with this. I don’t know the percentage of residents involved,” Hawley said on Wednesday. “What we can’t have happen is having (for example) the selectboard of Waltham no longer funding the program and the people of Waltham still coming.”
On Tuesday he told the council he did not have any immediate recommendations.
“I’m not ready to do anything today, but the clock is ticking big-time,” Hawley said, adding, “The towns need to get together very quickly.”

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