Tote-based trash pickup plan for Pittsfield fizzles after weeks of debate

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STEPHANIE ZOLLSHAN — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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PITTSFIELD — The City Council kicked a tote-based overhaul to the city's trash pickup program back to Mayor Linda Tyer on Tuesday, declining to take a vote either way.

The vote the council did take landed 7-4 in favor of sending the proposed ordinance back to Tyer for more work. Councilors spent weeks debating the matter, first proposed in November, that would have limited free trash pickup to one city-provided 45-gallon tote per household and one 96-gallon tote per household for single-stream recycling.

In the interest of cleaning up trash overflowing in the streets, the ordinance would have also established a fine structure to impose on problem properties, ranging from $50 to $200 a day for as long as the violations endure.

One landlord said during public comment that he's concerned property owners will get slammed under the proposed ordinance with fines for tenants' rubbish-related violations. He said stray garbage would be difficult to trace back to a specific tenant, and eviction — which is costly and time-intensive — would offer the only recourse from repeat offenders.

Another commented on garbage-strewn streets and corresponding sanitation issues, which she said requires extermination assistance and is "demeaning to human dignity."

Mayor Tyer and Finance Director Matt Kerwood put the plan forward with goals of reducing trash and associated disposal costs — which haulers told councilors are rising as landfills close — increasing the city's low recycling rate, reducing blight and mounting sanitary issues with curbside pickup. The city's Board of Health backed the plan, which promised to both address public health concerns and enforcement issues under the current system. Health Director Gina Armstrong said Republic Services' truck cameras and automated tracking service would provide much-needed assistance in her department's efforts to enforce an abundance of trash-related nuisance complaints.

"The mayor has no comment at this time," Roberta McCulloch-Dews, director for administrative resources, said Wednesday of the council vote.

Councilors claim they've been inundated for weeks with calls and messages from residents concerned about the now-fizzled plan. From the $1.4 million upfront price tag to what they worry will be the impacts on seniors and residents with disabilities, councilors noted many concerns as they debated the program.

Dan Higgins, general manager for Republic Services, has said some 120 residents with physical challenges already receive doorside pickup services, and that won't change. Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said that number would need to increase under the proposed program, and he said Tuesday he worries it would become too unwieldy for the company.

"That's where I'm really concerned," he said. "How is that going to be cost-effective?"

Higgins said the company has moved to automated pickup services in dozens of other municipalities across the commonwealth, including some with more senior populations. He said no community has ever switched back after making the change, and the totes aren't as difficult to maneuver as they may appear to be.

"People find it's not as overwhelming as it's perceived," he said. "There hasn't been one community that has challenges we haven't been able to overcome."

Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo called for a larger forum for the conversation about changing the city's solid waste program, acknowledging everyone is on board with changing the system in some fashion.

"I think we still have so much more to talk about," she said. "Let's stop scaring the bejeezus out of all the residents, because when they get scared they pump the brakes."

Council President Peter Marchetti urged fellow councilors not to table the matter only to return to the same points again in two weeks.

"We're continuing to spin the wheels and we need to do something different," he said.

Councilor At Large Pete White and Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo, who voted down sending the ordinance back to the mayor, said they felt it was important to vote yes or no on the ordinance itself.

"We, as a collective body, have to vote on what's in front of us," Caccamo said. "We've heard a lot of the same conversations we've done our homework on this."

Councilor At Large Earl Persip and Marchetti also voted against returning the ordinance to Tyer without taking a vote.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who voted in favor, said the council is ready to adopt a new solid waste plan but "we just don't like this one."

"There are other options that have worked in other communities," said Krol, who takes issue with the upfront costs associated with the totes themselves. "I'm just not convinced that the toter system is right for Pittsfield."

Reach Amanda Drane at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandarane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.


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