Pay per bag gains steam

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

Should the Bridgton Board of Selectmen institute a pay-per-bag recycling system for solid waste disposal, as recommended by the Bridgton Recycling Committee, without first asking voters what they think?

The five-member board does wants to hear from the public on the proposed pay-per-bag system, so they decided to hold a public informational meeting on Tuesday, March 20 at 6 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room at the Bridgton Municipal Complex.

In past years, when the pay-per-bag solid waste disposal system came up, the then boards of selectmen asked for the public’s opinion, one way or the other. Each time, the pay-per-bag system and/or mandated recycling was defeated by voters. In 2002, Bridgton voters said ‘No’ to pay-per-bag solid waste disposal, by a vote of 63 Yes and 95 No, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz explained. One year later, in 2003, voters defeated a Solid Waste Ordinance that would have incorporated pay-per-bag, by a secret ballot vote with just five votes difference, 98 Yes and 103 No. Then, in 2004, voters defeated by 12 votes an annual town meeting warrant article asking them to authorize the selectmen to institute a pay-per-bag system — with 95 No and 83 Yes. The following year, at the 2005 annual town meeting, Bridgton voters defeated a warrant article “as written,” that would have enacted mandatory recycling, Berkowitz said.

Now, however, the Recycling Committee believes at least $69,000 in hauling costs could be realized, if the town institutes mandatory recycling and the pay-per-bag trash disposal system.

Saying he concurred with a statement made by former selectman Earl Cash, Selectman Doug Taft said Feb. 28, “I agree with Earl — we should sit down and hash it out.”

“I have to agree,” stated Selectman Bernie King. “This issue is so big — it’s important to everybody — I think we have to do that. I also think we’d get a more accurate number of people who want it or don’t want it, by referendum.”

The town manager reported that Bridgton saved $51,000 annually, when it went to single-sort recycling.

Final decision to be made March 27?

Berkowitz explained that the selectmen will discuss “the format and process” at their next regular meeting on March 13. The board will then hold the informational meeting on March 20, and will likely make a final decision as to whether or not to place the item on the annual June town meeting warrant at their regular meeting on Mar. 27.

Feb. 14 meeting discussion

A written legal opinion from Town Attorney Richard Spencer states that the Town of Bridgton Solid Waste Ordinance does, in fact, authorize the selectmen to automatically enact mandatory recycling pay-per-bag solid waste disposal without first gaining voter approval, Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. stated, at the board’s Feb. 14 meeting.

Saying “recycling can make a difference in both direct costs and future costs avoided,” the Recycling Committee forwarded survey results to the selectmen Feb. 3 that showed how many Maine communities have a pay-per-bag recycling program. The survey results found that in 2006 there were approximately 61 municipalities in Maine that had instituted pay-per-bag recycling — and by 2011, that number had more than doubled, to 131 communities.

“And the trend continues upwards,” said Berkowitz, in the Feb. 3 memo he wrote to selectmen on behalf of the Recycling Committee members. “We offer this as a prime example of both the importance of pay-per-bag as a proven method to increase recycling while at the same time the fact that the doubling of the communities involved speaks to its popularity. Are all of these communities wrong in their decision? We think not and that is why you have our recommendation for pay-per-bag before you…We encourage the Board of Selectmen to exercise its authority in a manner that supports this recommendation.”

Ken Ribas asked the selectmen Feb. 14 if local residents “have the right to get a petition circulating,” if they are opposed to the proposed pay-per-bag system.

Budget Advisory Committee member Dave MacFarland told the board, “You’ve set a precedent of coming to the public on this particular issue.”

Others, like Bob Mawhinney, said they flat out oppose the pay-per-bag system.

“I opposed pay-per-bag years ago, and I still do,” Mawhinney said. “Back in the ’40s and ’50s, Bridgton was a horror show with trash left around in the woods and trails.” Mawhinney said he considers the pay-per-bag system of trash disposal to be a “tax.”

“It really is a tax,” Mawhinney stated. He said further that he believes the pay-per-bag system puts “a hardship” on some folks, particularly those on fixed incomes and young families with children.

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