'Trash' Talk Expected At Fairfax's Town Meeting

Feb 27, 2016

They’ll be talking trash in Fairfax on Town Meeting Day. Specifically, they’ll be voting on whether to continue with town-wide curbside trash pickup.

Earlier this week, garbage collectors braved rain and sleet to pick up trash and recyclables along the curb-sides of Fairfax. The Franklin County town has long had curbside trash pickup, funded through the town property tax. That’s unusual for a town of its size. And as Vermont’s universal recycling law and additional solid waste education and reporting mandates are phased in, the trash business is also getting harder to manage.

The nonbinding question on the Town Meeting ballot asks Fairfax residents if they want to enter into a town-wide trash pickup contract with Casella Waste Management. That contract is more expensive than the service now being provided by Duffy’s Waste and Recycling. Select Board Chairman Tom Fontaine says Duffy’s told the town in December that it can't meet new state mandates under the current contract.

"And what it is, it’s just not about curbside pickup anymore, not for a town like ours, because of Act 148," said Fontaine. "Last year they changed the unibased pricing and how much trash you were allowed to put out. This year, I know, there’s wood and steel. We have food scraps coming up in a few years. So there’s a lot of layers, and with that you have to somehow comply with the laws."

If voters decide to continue curbside pickup, the town will sign a contract with Casella Waste Management. Currently Duffy's Waste and Recycling does the job.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

In addition to recycling and composting mandates, there are education and reporting requirements that are pushing up the workload and the price. Under state law, every town must file a Solid Waste Implementation Plan – known as a SWIP. That document spells out how the town will comply with the state mandates, including special collections, such as household hazardous waste.

Fontaine says under the contract that voters will consider on Town Meeting Day, Casella Waste will handle the SWIP requirements. And the price tag is about $30 a month per household. Fontaine says if the voters don’t approve a new contract with Casella, Fairfax will do what all the other towns in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties have done – join the Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District.

"The other option, if they didn’t want to pay for the curbside anymore, is that we would join the district," he explained, "and then it would be up to each individual to deal with their trash, but with joining the district ... we would fit underneath their SWIP. And then they would take care of the education and all the pieces that go with it."

New recycling mandates are one of several factors making trash collection more complicated in Vermont.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

That option would be significantly less expensive for someone who chooses to bring their trash to the drop-off site rather than pay privately for pick up. The Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District is headquartered in the neighboring town of Georgia. District Executive Director John Leddy says that if Fairfax joins the district, residents could use any of the district’s drop-off facilities, including the Georgia drop-off and recycling center.

"And this facility is our most full-service facility in that we accept everything, all wastes here," said Leddy. "That would be open to the residents of Fairfax if they were to join the district."

If the town discontinues curbside pickup, Fairfax residents could bring household trash and recyclables to this Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District facility in Georgia.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

And Leddy says the district would work with the town to set up recycling systems, such as a school composting program or food scrap pickup. Leddy and Select Board Chairman Tom Fontaine both noted that, if voters shoot down the town-wide contract, residents could hire a hauler on their own for curbside pickup.

And, Leddy says, that may be a more equitable system than municipally-funded pickup.

"What people are paying depends on how much their property is worth ... not on how much waste they generate." - District Executive Director John Leddy

"Currently the funding for that is based on the property bill. So, it’s all based on property taxes," he said. "and what people are paying depends on how much their property is worth ... not on how much waste they generate. So there’s really no correlation between how much somebody pays to fund the waste system and how much waste they’re generating."

If the town decides to discontinue curbside pickup, another vote would need to be held in order to join the solid waste district. If that’s approved, the district’s board of supervisors would then need to vote to accept Fairfax as a member.