CONPOSH, or the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor, often holds meetings on controversial local topics. On Sunday, waste management in Southampton Town was the subject of the day at a panel discussion held at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church. Town residents were invited to debate the merits of a town proposal to privatise its waste management operations. Trash often isn’t an emotional topic, but it is for many residents as waste management procedures ties into environmental and quality of life issues.
“The bottom line is that these are changing times . . . We can no longer put sand over our trash and call it a day,” said panel member Councilman Chris Nuzzi , referencing the North Sea landfill and the town’s former method of handling its waste. The town currently monitors the landfill and operates four waste transfer stations in Sag Harbor, North Sea, Westhampton and Hampton Bays.
Alleged deficits in the Waste Management fund, however, have caused the town to explore cost cutting measures, including privatization. Supervisor Linda Kabot , also on the panel, said auditors revealed a $2 million fund deficit in January of 2008. A pending outside audit, she added, will likely show around $3 million debt at year end in 2008. Nuzzi refuted these figures and argued that recent efforts to charge other municipal departments for their waste disposal will show that the fund breaks even.
Currently, the town spends $1 million to monitor the landfill using taxpayer dollars. The transfer stations are funded through other revenues from the “Green Bag” program, recyclables and other fees.
Kabot and members of the public, however, contended these revenues don’t sustain the waste management program. The market for recyclables is volatile, often changing from one day to the next, and extremely difficult to use in crafting an annual budget.
Southampton Town Environmental Facilities Manager later noted that use of the transfer station is down almost 8 percent over the last year, although Sag Harbor shows consistent rates of use.Kabot stipulated only around 15 percent of residents frequent the stations with the other 85 percent hiring private trash hauling companies.
Privatization could create a more economically efficient system, argued Kabot. She explained that a private company would lease the transfer station equipment and facilities from where they could operate a private business. The stations would still be open to the public, but the town would have to pay to have its municipal waste processed.
“What make us think that a private facility would run any more efficiently? If the town hasn’t been able to do it why would a private company be able to do it?” asked panelist and member of the Southampton Town Residents Against Pollution group Dan Gebbia . Several residents argued that privatizing waste management services will compromise the recycling program. Private operations at transfer stations would also increase traffic in residential neighborhoods, maintained others. Panelist Skip Norsic , president of a private waste hauling company, estimated that almost 30 percent of the town’s residents used the town dumps, refuting Kabot’s earlier claims. Any observed decreases in usage of the stations, contended some audience members, wasn’t the fault of the service but a lack of waste management education in the community.
Aside from the political aspect of privatization, Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca questioned the role of the community in lessening the volume of waste.
“We are generating the garbage the government has to deal with,” remarked DeLuca. “On Long Island we produce almost six pounds of solid water per person per day. All of us have to do a better job and think about producing less.”
A similar discussion on privatizing the town’s waste management program will be held on October 20 at the Southampton Youth Services.