Village of Red Hook officials face tough decisions on the weekly trash pick-up program as revenue from the service continues to trend downward.
The village’s weekly curbside trash pickup is funded by the sale of self-adhesive tags that residents place on bags of garbage, which are picked up along with recyclables, which carry no fee. Small (kitchen-size) bags are $2.50 and large black bags are $5.
Mayor Ed Blundell estimates there are about 300 regular customers out of about 831 households in the village, and he also estimates they generate barely enough revenue to cover the costs of the program.
There was $55,000 in revenue projected for 2012-2013, down from $65,000 for 2011-2012, according to Blundell. But $60,000 in revenue, or about $5,000 in tags per month, is needed to keep the program as a self-funded operation. The difference would be another 50 customers buying a $5 tag each week, he said.
“Raising the cost to our loyal customers is not the answer,” Blundell added, since his analysis makes clear that the problem is a drop in sales, and a higher tag price might drive more customers away.
According to village estimates, trash-service customers are paying an average of $13 per month for tags, which is far less than the cost of private haulers, such as Royal Carting and Welsh Sanitation.
So why aren’t residents buying tags?
Although single-stream recycling and curbside pick-up are convenient, Blundell sees a hurdle for potential customers in the need to purchase the tags themselves, compared to a monthly or bi-monthly service fee charged to a credit card like the major haulers do.
Tags are available at Village Hall, Mac’s Agway, and Red Hook Natural Foods, but Blundell has received feedback that the tag system is not convenient for those with busy lives. “Friends of mine with young kids have said it’s a pain to get the tags,” he said., According to Blundell, the village would like to offer a monthly fee option for residents but is still working out the logistics of such a plan.
Another potential barrier is the requirement to limit bags to a certain size depending on what type of tag the customer purchased, rather than having one large bin. A “pay-as-you-throw” service like the village’s requires that customers plan ahead, which may be a barrier to some who don’t want to think about garbage output.
If the village were to go out of the trash business, Blundell points out that significant costs would be passed on to taxpayers. For instance, he said, $26,000 in village highway department expenses are normally covered by tag revenues. Without the tags or trash service, those expenses would be transferred to the General fund. These are costs that would not go away, even if garbage pick-up were cancelled, since the village would still need its trucks and highway workers for other jobs.
“To move [these costs] over to the general fund and not be in the garbage business, in and of itself is a 2-2.5 percent tax increase, just to go out of business. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Blundell told The Observer.
Another consideration is Blundell’s argument that the village’s system is a better way to divert recyclables and other materials from the waste stream. “’Pay as you throw’ is an effective way to deal with garbage and forces the consumer to analyze what they’re actually putting in that bag versus the compost pile or single stream [recycling]. And it does help the village,” he said.
In questions about trash pick-up, Blundell sees a larger question about the value of a village as a service provider. For example, the village uses the same truck for both trash pickup and leaf pick-up in the fall, which Blundell believes is a significant service to residents, many of whom are elderly or have small lots with no room for a brush pile.
In line with that, Blundell said there is a new plan coming this year that will allow for free curbside brush pick-up on every other Monday, in lieu of the current system where residents pay for an annual permit and must bring the brush to the brush pile themselves.
According to village officials, the new brush plan will save money because they won’t have to hire someone to monitor the brush drop-off every Saturday, since the new pile is owned privately and the significant cost of chipping the brush will be handled by the site’s owner instead of the village.