BERLIN – Town officials delayed changes to Berlin’s solid waste policies following objections from citizens.
The Berlin Town Council on Monday voted to table an ordinance that would have updated the solid waste section of the town code and also to table a new special collections policy. In recent weeks citizens have expressed concern about the new charges for bulk pickup outlined in the policy.
“I suggest you close Heron Park and take the money you have budgeted for it and use it for public works’ bulk pickup costs until the finances are in better shape,” resident Marie Velong said. “Bulk pickup is a service that keeps our town cleaner and helps the citizens. Heron Park is a big question mark and not necessary at this time.”
Earlier this month, town officials proposed updating the section of the code addressing solid waste and also adding a new special waste collection policy. The new policy was introduced as a way to curb the town’s growing bulk pickup costs, which have roughly doubled this year. Under the proposal, residents would be able to have three items picked up for free during each of the town’s bulk pickup days, which occur in the spring and fall. For more items, citizens would have to pay a $25 administrative fee and $25 per item.
During a public hearing Monday, residents objected to the new policy. Velong pointed out that several officials pushed for new annexations and developments but were then surprised when the cost of services went up.
“One must wonder about how new developments have helped the town ‘by increasing the tax base’ and yet the town has no money to provide the services we have had,” she said. “It’s either that argument isn’t valid or the leadership has been misspending our tax money. I suspect the latter.”
Resident Jim Meckley said he’d been a council member in a small town similar to Berlin in the past and had watched it face a similar challenge. When the town started charging for bulk pickup, residents started letting their unwanted large items sit on porches and in backyards.
“It created a huge problem,” he said.
Meckley added that limiting the number of items to be picked up for free might not have an impact on the bottom line, as people who had more items would simply ask a neighbor who wasn’t utilizing the service if they could put some items on their lawn for pickup. Meckley added that the town had recently raised taxes.
“We’re paying higher fees because we want to keep these services,” he said. “I feel we’re nickel and diming the public by doing this. I think it’s a poor call on your part.”
Resident Whitney Palmer said she wasn’t opposed to the town limiting the number of items for free bulk pickup but thought three was low. She added that the $25 administrative fee seemed unnecessary if the items were being picked up on an already scheduled bulk pickup day.
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood said that while most homes averaged three or four items on bulk pickup days, roughly 10% of homes in town put out a “massive amount.” He said that with the new policy residents would still get six items picked up each year for free.
As proposed, the policy would have residents pay ahead of time for any additional items they wanted taken on special collection days. Resident Suzanne Parks asked what would occur if someone came and scavenged an item that a resident had paid to have picked up by the town.
“That’s a tough decision,” Fleetwood said. “The reality is it’s the homeowner’s property. I’m not suggesting you stand guard but it’s your property.”
Dave Gaskill, the town’s attorney, suggested officials consider billing residents after and not before the scheduled bulk pickup day.
Mayor Gee Williams agreed that there were probably ways to incorporate some of the evening’s suggestions into the proposal.
“Maybe there’s a way we could find some common ground that’s fair,” he said, adding that the town had time before its next special collection day, which would occur in the spring.
Councilman Zack Tyndall expressed various concerns with both the ordinance revising the code and the special collection policy. He made a motion to table each.
Williams said the ordinance was more of a housekeeping issue and didn’t specifically relate to the bulk pickup fees. He suggested it could be approved even if the special collection policy was tabled.
Tyndall said he still wanted to table both items, since it was the ordinance the enabled the town to charge fees for pickup.
The motion to table the ordinance passed 3-2, with Councilmen Elroy Brittingham and Thom Gulyas opposed. The motion to table the special collection policy passed unanimously.
Resident Jack Orris said he was happy to see town leaders acknowledge the input from citizens.
“I felt this was a flawed proposal since the first reading and lacked sufficient data to back up the proposed fees,” he said. “I’m encouraged the council paused, listened to great ideas from our community and decided to review alternatives.”