Tag Archive | "waste management"

To Privatise Or Not: CONPOSH Weighs in on Town’s Waste Management Proposal

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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.

Trash Talks Sour at Town Hall

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To the average Southampton Town resident, trash is a topic given little thought. Many locals choose to bag their household waste and leave it on the corner of their properties for a private waste hauling company to pick up and cart away. Others participate in the town’s “green bag” system and bring their trash to one of the town’s four dumps, or waste stations. Once those trash bags travel down the chute or are thrown into the back of a truck, the Southampton Town resident’s role in disposing of their household waste is done.

For members of the town board, however, how best to manage the town’s waste is a subject of lively debate. Since last year, the board has explored the idea of privatizing waste management operations, or in other words hiring a private company to run the town’s trash disposal service. Privatization could be the key to lowering costs associated with the town program and ease its deficit. However, some members of the board are weary of the plan and believe privatization might fail to accomplish this goal.

In December of 2008, the town hired Cashin Associates, a business consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive study on current operations of the town’s waste management system and the viability of hiring a private company to take over the reigns of this town service.

“Historically, the town has run its [waste management] operations as a traditional governmental service rather than as a business that must balance its costs and revenues. This approach, in conjunction with providing a high level of service for a relatively limited number of users, has contributed to operational inefficiencies and a general imbalance of income and expenditures within the Department,” wrote the consulting firm in its opening comments. At a work session held Friday, July 10, members of the board estimated the department’s deficit at around $2.8 million, but comptroller Tamara Wright added that this figure was based on unaudited financials. Kabot added that the town is waiting for the year end 2008 numbers, but said “waste management is in deficit condition.”

Based on Cashin’s analysis, around 11 to 14 percent of the town population use the town’s waste stations, however, councilman Chris Nuzzi argued these figures were debatable. Although the number of participating locals may be small, the costs savings are substantial for residents who take advantage of the program. Cashin estimated the average household paid $215 annually for disposal of their household trash at the town waste site. The average annual price for a private trash hauling company was estimated at $521. However, larger families who live farther from waste stations see only 17 percent savings compared to private hauling services.

In recent years, the town has experienced success with its green bag and bulk waste program. Cashin estimated this leg of the waste management program garners an annual revenue of around $819,000, while the expenditure for the green bag and bulk waste service is approximately $790,000. In addition to positive revenues for these particular services, the waste management department has also worked to cut down on expenses. Closing the Westhampton and Sag Harbor stations one day per week has helped lessen costs.

However, Cashin claims the amount of waste disposed at a town facility steadily decreased from 2004 through 2008. They pointed out that the department has almost 25 employees and over the next eight years will need to pay around $4,000,000 for new equipment and vehicles.

Based on their findings, Cashin advised the town to issue request for proposals, or RFPs, “to gauge vendor interest in taking over transfer station operations, handling transport and disposal of most of its solid waste stream.”

Cashin theorized the town could potentially save money by leasing or selling their equipment. The report added that based on prevailing New York State wages, a private contractor could potentially pay around 10 percent less than the town for labor and staffing.

“In recent years, Southampton had experienced a marked improvement in its overall solid waste management operations, including and especially control of labor costs, better tracking of expenses and interdepartmental charges, and phased upgrades to the North Sea Transfer station …,” the report determined. “[T]his study found that the town-run transport and private disposal of green bag and bulk waste currently costs the town approximately $141 [per ton]. This number is substantially higher than what most other Long Island municipalities pay for similar service. Therefore the major recommendation of this Privatization Study is the town of Southampton issue a request for proposals RFP.”

Both Nuzzi and town councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst were reluctant to entertain bids from private companies before the town receives fully completed and solid figures on the waste management’s financial status.

“I still have a lot of analysis to do,” contended comptroller Wright.

Throne-Holst held firm on waiting for the financials before deciding to privatize the waste management program.

“We are having this discussion without the numbers,” argued Throne-Holst, and it appeared the board was at an impasse again on the viability of privatization.