BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The annual debate about the trash fee turned into a debate about when, and if, the debate is even necessary.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” Ward 5 Councilor Don Martin said at last night’s City Council meeting. “It happens every year and the result is always the same.”
The trash fee has been around since 2004. It charges residents $100 and businesses $300 per year to help pay the city’s trash collection and disposal costs.
The fee comes with an annual “sunset clause” that requires council approval for it to continue. The council has done just that every year, although last year it rejected Mayor Bill Scanlon’s request to increase the fee by 40 percent.
No one has recommended an increase this year. But Martin, who has voted against the fee every year, again expressed his opposition.
“We’re in very good financial shape compared to where we were nine years ago,” he said. “It does lead you to wonder, do we really need the trash fee?”
John Dunn, the city’s finance director, said the trash fee raises about $1.3 million per year, a little more than half of the city’s total cost of trash and recycling collection, which is about $2.5 million.
Dunn said those costs represent an increase under a new contract, which will include weekly recycling pickup rather than every two weeks.
Even though the trash fee has always been renewed, Ward 6 Councilor Brett Schetzsle said it is important for the council to review it every year.
“A lot of people were upset that we were going to increase the trash fee (last year) even though our collection costs were doing down,” he said. “To use Councilor Martin’s expression, it turns into a back-door Proposition 21/2 override.”
Peabody Avenue resident Mary Rodrick, who serves on the city’s Solid Waste Management Committee, said the trash fee is unfair because it imposes the same fee on everyone regardless of how much trash they put out.
“Some of us put out one bag. Some of us put out 10 bags,” she said. “Some families recycle everything. Some families recycle nothing. There’s no incentive to recycle. We really have to look at a new system.”
Central Street resident Estelle Rand, who is also on the Solid Waste Management Committee, said the council should consider that committee’s recommendation for a pay-as-you-throw system that charges a fee based on the amount of trash you put out.
“That takes care of the fairness issue,” Rand said.
Martin and Councilor Jason Silva said the next mayor (Scanlon is not running for re-election) should take a fresh look at the trash fee and how it is instituted.
Councilors referred the matter to their finance and legal subcommittees for further discussion.
Summing up the sometimes intense opposition to the trash fee over the years, Hale Street resident Rene Mary told councilors that if they increase it, “There will be a French Revolution down on Hale Street.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.