Council learns the costs of closing transfer station

Council learns the costs of closing transfer station

PAWTUCKET – Closing the Grotto Avenue waste transfer station would have significant impacts on the city both financially and in reduced services, members of Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration told the City Council at a summit last Thursday on the future of the facility.

Public Works Director Eric Earls said the additional cost to the DPW from closing the station, beyond the estimated $1.3 million it would cost to have waste service provider MTG Disposal direct-haul trash to the Johnston landfill, would be $1.6 million, $1.1 million of that in one-time improvements to trucks and equipment, and another $500,000 in annual costs.

With a current price tag of $2.3 million for trash and recycling, it would effectively more than double the city’s cost to dispose of waste, he said.

Councilor Meghan Kallman questioned the decision to include the one-time costs in the figure, saying it gives residents the wrong impression about the long-term costs of closing the facility. Earls responded that even with the $1.1 million in one-time costs taken out, that’s still nearly $2 million in added costs.

The combined extra price tag of nearly $3 million in year one would require a tax increase of about $250 on a $250,000 home, or about $1 on the tax rate. The maximum the city could raise taxes in one year is just under $4 million, which would mean about three-quarters of the allowed increase going to that one item.

According to Earls and others, there are many tasks the DPW does on a daily basis that intersect with the transfer facility, which is why they’re projecting much higher operational costs. The DPW currently uses the facility to dispose of litter from parks, trash from city buildings and outdoor recreation field bins, street sweepings, illegally dumped materials and tree trimmings, among others.

Without the access to the transfer station, workers would have to take items to the Central Landfill, requiring “multiple trips by multiple pieces of equipment and personnel” and greater wear and tear on trucks, said Earls.

None of those extra costs factor in the $2.5 million needed to address deficiencies at the facility as required by the state if it is to stay open.

The cost of going back to a city-run transfer facility would be $1.3 million in year one and $1 million annually after that. That alternative has been proposed by Councilor Tim Rudd as a possible solution to the impasse over what to do with the facility.

The cap and closure cost at the facility is estimated to be about $4.5 million.

Members of the Grebien administration said with some 1,000 monthly trips to dispose of trash items, plus 50 trips to drop off yard waste and another 50 to drop mattresses and box springs. The city is currently responding to 10-20 calls for illegal dumping each week, said Commerce Director Jeanne Boyle, and they expect that number would rise if the facility closes, resulting in a reduction in quality of life and setting the city back on its efforts to enhance enforcement efforts.

Kallman and others noted that there’s been little talk about the quality of life for residents of the west side of the city where the transfer facility is located. Kallman said she’d like additional answers on who’s culpable for what she described as 21 years of mismanagement at the facility.

Rudd asked about next steps following the Jan. 31 summit, noting that time is of the essence since a contract with private contractor Waste Connections is set to expire Feb. 28. Council President David Moran said the council may need to extend the contract again, as members need to digest what they learned last week and talk to the administration further. This is a big decision to make, he said, and when it is made, it will be an “administrative function” of the Grebien administration. “At the best it’s going to be a joint decision,” he said. “Stay tuned.”

Councilor Albert Vitali Jr. said he wants to make sure any decision made “doesn’t cripple the taxpayers,” saying he doesn’t want the outcome here to jeopardize money for other items, including roads and schools. This decision should not be rushed, he said, and should be done “properly and with caution.”

Grebien said Monday that his administration and the council are working together to find the most viable solution for the community.

“Understanding that this is an extremely complex issue, we will continue to do our due diligence to look into all of the options in front of us,” he said. “We would like to thank the council for having a productive meeting and look forward to continue our collaboration.”

Several council members questioned whether the private vendors at the transfer station have lived up to their contractual obligations to complete upgrades, asking Solicitor Frank Milos to analyze whether there might be some sort of liquidated damages due to the city for improvements not being done.