Bethany to increase trash fee under recycling mandate
The Bethany Beach Town Council at its most recent meeting voted unanimously to increase the annual fee paid by property owners for the town’s self-operated trash pickup service as it gets combined with curbside recycling service under a state mandate that goes into effect on Sept. 15, 2011.
The fee will increase by $50 for those who do not currently pay for the optional curbside recycling service – a 25 percent increase in their annual bill. Those who do pay for the recycling service at present will see their rates rise only $6 per year above the additional $44 they have been paying.
Under the state mandate for universal curbside recycling, all trash haulers – including towns that provide the service themselves, rather than using an outside contractor – will be required as of Sept. 15 to provide curbside recycling to all of their trash-service customers.
That increase in service demands on the town includes not only the increase from the pool of opt-in customers that currently exists but also the purchase of recycling carts for each single-family home, plus the eventual purchase of commercial-size containers for businesses and some multi-family dwellings. Additionally, increases in tipping fees at the landfills are increasing the cost.
“This is not totally driven by recycling,” Town Manager Cliff Graviet emphasized at the Nov. 19 meeting. He noted that, just prior to the state becoming involved in the issue of recycling, the town had reduced its trash-collection staff and service. “Tipping fees have gone up drastically, and we anticipate they will continue to go up.”
Graviet said the tipping fee the town pays had increased from $59 to $80 per load. He noted that the revenue coming in to the town will only cover equipment, not increased operating costs. “We will pick up additional costs,” he said.
In fact, town staff had recommended a 40 percent increase in the trash fee to cover those costs, but the town’s Budget & Finance Committee had rejected that level of increase as too steep. They had instead recommended the 25 percent increase the council subsequently adopted.
The reduction in the amount of the increase, while unanimously approved by the council, came with some cautionary words from Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon.
“Even that will not cover what we anticipate for expenses in the future,” he said of the increase in trash fees. “We have to raise it – not just because we have to leave it at this level until 2013 if we take the grant money. We have to put at a level that won’t hurt us financially. We need to make sure that we realize this is a low number. At the end of 2013, there will have to be some sort of increase, unless there is more grant money.”
The grants available to the towns that provide trash service will vary, based on how many towns apply for them. The funds that will be used for the grants are coming from the new (and temporary) 4-cent bottle fee that recently replaced the 5-cent refundable bottle deposit – another part of the state legislation that institutes universal recycling. Low-interest loans are being made available to private haulers to help offset their additional costs.
“Once that money gone, it’s gone,” warned Councilman Lew Killmer. “All the towns have to send requests to the State. They’ll take from their existing accounts to fund it. Then, they’ll replace that with money from the bottle fee.”
Council Treasurer Jerry Dorfman noted that the commercial containers, carts and trucks needed for the universal recycling service must be ordered months in advance in order to be in place when the new law takes effect, so the council was under a time constraint to consider the recommended increase in the trash service fee now, rather than during the regular budget cycle.
“Raising rates now does not preclude the town from the state program,” Dorfman emphasized of the timing for the vote. “We can make a 25 percent increase in 2014 or 2015, depending on the grant funding. And we have capital reserves we can use if it’s not sufficient for the carts and Dumpsters.”
Council members in Bethany Beach and other local coastal towns have objected to the mandate for universal curbside recycling, citing the disproportionately small portion of their property owners who are year-round residents or who have year-round tenants.
“Our non-residents are here on a very sparse basis,” Councilman Joseph Healy pointed out. “Having a cart for each and every residence, when they’re here for less than 75 percent of the year, does not make fiscal sense.”
“I would hope that all the public understands this is being mandated by the State,” commented Councilwoman Margaret Young. “They have given us the problem of how to figure out how to pay for it.”
Graviet noted that town staff had originally thought the cost of curbside recycling would go down over time. Currently, about 600 to 700 people participate in the opt-in program. “Now, everybody is part of it,” he said, citing the mandated increase in service breadth as a reason why the recycling costs are increasing, particularly due to the number of carts the town will have to purchase, even if they will not be used most of the year.
Still, Graviet emphasized that the town’s trash service is, and will remain, a comparative bargain when put up against private haulers.
“Those outside town limits,” he said of the neighboring residents who are served by Town of Bethany Beach trash service, “pay $250 for two pickups per week in the summer, one a week in the off-season, plus recycling, yard-waste pickups and open pickups. That rate is quite phenomenal today. We find private haulers are charging $400 to $600 for trash pickup.”
“It is reasonable,” said Councilwoman Carol Olmstead.
Dorfman further noted that the town had received a bid of $90 per household for the first year of recycling under a proffered three-year contract when it had investigated farming out the service, assuming 700 participants. That was to increase to $105 per year by the third year.
“To me, this is a bargain, because this incorporates your trash pickups,” he said.
Council members also noted on Nov. 19 that the town would be working to determine how it will be handling the issue of yard waste as of Jan. 1, when new rules for landfills in Kent and Sussex counties will require it be separated from regular trash.
Gordon said he felt the town was in a good position to handle pickup of yard waste, with a truck equipped for the service. He suggested they just make yard waste a separate pickup day.
Questions remain as to whether the town will find it a lower cost to dispose of the waste itself or to take it to a yard-waste processing facility, such as the Blue Hen facility near Dagsboro. Killmer noted that landfill fees for yard waste are expected to increase for waste that is packaged in regular plastic bags. A reduced rate will be implemented for those using a bio-degradable plastic-type bag.
Also at the Nov. 19 council meeting:
• The council voted 4-3 to approve the appointment of Ocean View/Millville-area resident Vahan Moushegian Jr. to the chairmanship of the town’s Zoning Commission, which includes a seat on the Board of Adjustments. The vote reversed a previous rejection of Moushegian as a member of the BoA, on the grounds that it would make a majority of BoA members non-residents of the town. Council members said they had since been informed that Moushegian – who was recommended by BoA Chairman Bob Parsons – is in residence at his Bethany Beach home about six months of the year. “He is definitely not an absentee landlord,” Young said in reversing her prior vote and supporting the appointment. Olmstead, Dorfman and Killmer remained opposed to the appointment on the grounds of majority of the BoA becoming non-residents. Gordon and Healy voted in favor. McClenny held off his vote until others were cast, becoming the deciding vote, and said he would vote in favor, based on Parsons’ recommendation and the lack of a residency requirement for BoA members.
• Graviet reported that the utility relocation on Garfield Parkway was moving ahead, with some pipes in the ground and expectations that services would soon be fully wired through those pipes. He said the most extensive portion of the project was behind town hall, which he expected would be done by Thanksgiving. The next portion of the project was to be actual underground boring across Route 1 and Garfield Parkway. He said the project was on target for its timelines and he was trying to work out issues so the town could produce a bid-spec package for light poles. Samples of the proposed light pole colors and material are available in the town office for those who would like to see them and offer input.
Additionally, Graviet said the town had been working with DelDOT under a proposal that the department would commission design firm JMT to develop design documents for a request-for-proposals on improvements to Garfield Parkway west of the Pennsylvania Avenue intersection, including bump-outs and modernization of the area from the intersection to the lifeguard station. He said DelDOT officials thought initial estimates for the project cost were higher than the actual costs might be, and that a lower number might make it possible for DelDOT to more favorably consider the project in the future.
• Graviet said the town also has Duffield & Associates working on a cost-benefit analysis for possible improvements impacting flooding on Pennsylvania Avenue. The analysis would be intended to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determine whether it will get involved in the project.
• The council voted unanimously to approve a revised procedures manual for the council.
• The council also unanimously approved declaring the last Friday in February of each year Arbor Day in the town. The move completes the town’s membership requirements for the Arbor Day Foundation – a process started with the purchase of the former Neff property in 2004. As a full member of the ADF, the town is now eligible for tree-planting grants.
• The council voted 5-2 not to cancel its December meeting, which has been canceled in past years when it fell too close to the Christmas holiday. This year, the council will meet on Dec. 17.
• The council announced a donation of $1,000 from the Bethany Beach Women’s Club for maintenance of the Martha Addy garden on Garfield Parkway.
• The council reported the receipt of an e-mail from the Corps stating that the bid advertisement for the planned replenishment of the beach and dune would include repair of damage to the handicapped access ramp on Oceanview Parkway. Graviet likened the project to the replenishment project of 1998 – but significantly larger. At that time, the State provided resources for the town to put 240,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach and the town purchased 50,000 additional cubic yards. The planned project is expected to add 387,000 cubic yards of sand in the first quarter of 2011. He said he hoped for a mild winter/spring that would leave most of that new sand still on the beach in the summer.
• The council on a 6-0 vote approved changes on a first reading of a proposed ordinance amending the town code on wireless communications facilities. With Mayor Tony McClenny – an amateur radio operator and one impacted directly by the changes – abstaining, the council agreed to use language encouraging antennas be attached to a structure rather than freestanding and to ask that operators apply to the building inspector to be approved for towers exceeding 75 feet, though the council noted that federal regulations limit the town’s ability to restrict tower height. A second reading and possible vote on approval is expected this month.
• Graviet noted the retention of some seasonal police officers through the fall, on weekends, to look for code violations, such as dogs loose on the beach. He said the work seemed to be paying off, as there had been less dog waste on the beach. He said he expected they would probably continue to retain the officers on some weekends and to expand that to weekdays in the spring.