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Town Council weighs trash fees, costs, and schedule | Weste…

Town Council weighs trash fees, costs, and schedule | Weste…

WESTERLY — The Town Council will soon vote on whether to increase the fee charged for construction debris dropped off at the town transfer station from $100 per ton to $125.

Donald Oullette, director of public works, discussed the proposal with the council on Monday during a workshop meeting. The council is also expected, in the near future, to consider development of a transfer station fee schedule to replace the current system of encompassing the fees in a municipal ordinance. The  council also discussed closing the transfer station to residential and construction customers on Mondays but agreed to wait until September before possibly implementing the closure on a pilot basis.

Transfer station revenue was under budget by about $225,000 in 2018-19, according to Town Manager J. Mark Rooney. Ouellette said increasing the fee for construction debris is anticipated to generate about $200,000 in added revenue. “I think that’s also in line with most other communities,” he said.

Processing construction debris is time-intensive process and involves a heavy equipment operator breaking the material into a size required for disposal at the state’s Central Landfill in Johnston. Smashing the debris also makes for more efficient loads,  officials said. The higher fee will also more closely match the cost of handling the material, which puts a strain on transfer station equipment, said Mike Serra, assistant superintendent of public works.

“It takes about an hour to crush, it’s hard on the machines, takes an hour to load and takes two or three hours to bring to Johnston and come back,” Serra said.

Serra, who manages the transfer station, asked the council to consider a fee schedule as a way to give the town’s staff more control of the facility and its operations. Under the current system, each time a fee change is contemplated the staff must propose an amendment to the ordinance, a process that takes weeks in order for the Town Council to take up the proposal.  Officials said the process can also be costly because of the expense of publishing legal advertisements.

“Each time we change the fee we have to publish the 18-page ordinance,” Serra said.

Serra said he and his superiors would notify the council of proposed changes to the fees, but are seeking  the authority to act more independently. The facility was designated as an enterprise fund by former Town Manager Derrik M Kennedy in 2017, and as such, it is supposed to strive for self-sufficiency.

“We can’t make what you want me to make,” Serra said. “We have to have some autonomy.”

Ouellette said that closing the transfer station for residential and construction disposal on Mondays would result in $35,200 in budget savings and bring an end to the current practice of using eight Highway Department workers to staff the station on that day, when the facility’s usual staff has the day off. The transfer station currently operates Monday through Saturday. “It really impacts my highway department tremendously,” Ouellette said.

In addition to requesting the authority to close the transfer station for residents’ use and construction debris on Mondays, Ouellette said he might ask to close the facility on an additional day in the future. Under Ouellette’s plan, the transfer station would be staffed with three workers to accept trash from commercial haulers on Mondays.

Running the transfer station when it is tracking under budget presents challenges, Ouellette said.

“From  a manager’s perspective it’s very difficult. Last year we ran out of money in mid-April,” he said, noting that expenses, including those for truck and equipment repairs, have mounted.

Councilor Karen Ciofffi said she was not convinced that closing the transfer station on Mondays would result in savings. She also criticized the council’s previous decision to decrease the fee charged to commercial haulers after it was increased.

Councilor Sharon Ahern said she opposed closing the facility on Mondays. “There are many luxuries in town that I enjoy, but I don’t think waste and trash disposal is one of them,” she said.

Rooney acknowledged that decisions on hours and days of operation are technically not up to the council. “But I’d like to get a consensus of the council,” he said.

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Industrial Construction Constructor Jonathan Cartu

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