WESTERLY — Fees for use of the transfer station are set to change for the third year in a row. Under a plan developed by the public works staff, most of the fees would increase with the exception of the one charged to commercial haulers who bring mixed loads derived from customers in Westerly and other towns. Those haulers’ fees would decline.
The proposed fee schedule reflects a $7.50 per ton increase in the tipping fee to $47 per ton charged by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation for trash that is dumped at the state’s Central Landfill in Johnston, as well as a need to generate more funds to operate the local facility, said Michael Serra, who manages the local transfer station.
“We’re breaking even, almost, because I’m not spending money, but we are in need of some things we can’t get without income,” Serra told the Town Council on Monday.
Topping the list of items Serra said will soon be needed are a new concrete tipping floor, which one councilor said is estimated to cost $300,000. The facilty’s building is 20 years and will soon need attention as well, Serra said.
The fee increases are also necessary, Serra said, because the station has been run as an enterprise fund since July 1. Enterprise funds are municipal operations that have accounting and financial reporting mechanisms, separate from other town departments, that involve charges for goods and services. The water and sewer departments are examples of other enterprise fund operations. The aim is for those funds to be as close to self-sustaining as possible.
The fee charged to commercial haulers who bring trash from Westerly customers to the transfer station would rise from $93 per ton to $100 per ton. Mixed loads would decrease from $121 per ton to $105 per ton, and the annual permit fee charged to commercial haulers would increase from $100 to $200. The fee for town-issued orange-colored bags would increase from 90 cents to $1 for small bags and from $1.55 for a large bag to $1.60.
Serra and Peter Chiaradio, public works superintendent, said the proposed decrease in the charge for mixed loads is necessary to regain haulers who took their business elsewhere after the fee was raised to $121 per ton last summer. “We’ve lost a considerable amount of volume,” Serra said.
The transfer station relies on revenue from haulers to keep the facility fiscally sustainable, Serra said.
“If you have transfer trailers they need to be transferring. If they’re not transferring how do you support your operation? With orange bags? Not a chance,” Serra said.
The transfer station missed out on about $19,800 in revenue from haulers who bypassed the facility in favor of transfer stations with lower tipping fees, Chiaradio said.
Councilor Mario Celico questioned the need for seeking additional business, noting that Serra reported a $200,000 surplus at the close of 2016-17, when efforts toward self-sufficiency began. “I think we’re better off to handle less trash and keep it the way it is,” Celico said. “I don’t think we should be soliciting to get trash from outside the town because evidently the record shows we’re handling less trash and we’re getting closer to the break even point than we ever have.”
In the current year the transfer station is running a surplus of about $98,000, Serra said. But Serra and interim Town Manager J. Mark Rooney warned against becoming overly optimistic. They said that contributions from the general fund were made to the facility’s annual budget both years. Additionally, they said, Serra has made drastic cuts to expenditures and in some cases did not spend budgeted funds.
“I don’t think we have enough data yet to know the balance point,” Rooney said.
Councilor Jean Gagnier said he believes the transfer station is headed toward financial stability but asked that the staff provide the council with a detailed financial analysis, including depreciation figures for equipment, when the council decides whether to approve the new proposed rates during its June 25 meeting. The council will conduct a public hearing on the rate changes at that time.
From 2011 to 2015 the transfer station finished with deficits totaling about $1.4 million.