As a Westerly resident and a career professional in the environmental and solid waste fields, I encourage Westerly to look at the transfer station issue on its merits without the artificial constructs of the Enterprise Fund designation.
I see Westerly as having a high-performing and well-run municipal transfer station supported financially by a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) bag program. PAYT programs are notable for reducing the total tonnages of trash received and increasing the diversion of recyclable materials. Both of those factors reduce costs compared to flat-rate disposal-fee programs. Westerly’s bag program returns usage-based revenue to the program and also allows for financial support from seasonal residents and vacationers. As well, solid waste system costs are highly dependent on external factors like transportation costs, disposal costs, and recycling commodities markets. Raising fees to cover these costs is normal, as is seeking efficiencies to reduce costs. Current costs are covered by a combination of bag fees, tip fees, and general fund monies.
I see the proposal to mitigate general fund costs through flat-rate user fees as an addition to the mil rate by other means. It is also regressive, unlike a mil-rate increase. For these reasons, I feel that the council’s expectation of transfer station self-sufficiency has created an artificial barrier to addressing the entire chain of Westerly’s waste management costs and making effective policy for the long run. Managing solid waste program costs is difficult enough without creating self-imposed hurdles.