Tuesday night a new trash pickup program was approved, designed to encourage more recycling by limiting the weekly pickup to three 35-gallon barrels or 30-gallon bags of trash plus one bulky item per week.
The Board of Health approved the plan unanimously after the Board of Selectmen narrowly approved a $2 fee for any additional bags of trash.
The selectmen were split three to two on the fee with Chairman Matthew Strauss and Selectman David Van Dam opposing the fee because it is a town “mandate” on the residents.
The new tax pickup program will begin Oct. 1. In July next year the health board plans to reduce the number of barrels to two, although the selectmen agreed to review the program prior to June 30, 2012 to determine if they would authorize the continuation of the fee for the additional trash bags.
Residents can purchase the $2 stickers for additional bags by mail or in person at Town Hall.
“Swampscott is the fourth most taxed community in Essex County,” Strauss said. “People feel they are taxed to death.”
He said the $2 fee for a bag of trash that is freely picked up by the town is an additional tax.
Proponents of the fee said the fee is necessary to encourage people to recycle more.
Swampscott recycles only about 18 percent of its trash.
“That is the dark ages,” said selectman Barry Greenfield. He noted that in San Jose, CA, by 2020, all trash will be recycled. Swampscott should be at 75 percent, he said.
Board of Health members said the plan would save Swampscott money and help the environment.
If the town residents can increase their recycling to 20 percent, Board of Health chairman Martha Dansdill said the town would save $83,000. If it reached the 30 percent mark, the town would save $124,000, and at 33 percent save $136,000, she said.
Dansdill predicted that few people would actually have to buy stickers. She estimated that the town would sell between 500 and 1,000 of the lime green colored stickers before July.
“The more we throw away, the more we pay,” said Board of Health member Dr. Larry Block. He said he does not believe that many residents have more than three bags of trash per week.
The health board, after a public hearing and talking with selectmen, changed some aspects of the program. No resident will have to purchase new barrels. And residents without barrels can put out trash bags, but not before 5 a.m. to avoid having noctural animals tear up the bags.
At the suggestion of Town Administrator Andrew Maylor, the health board lowered the fines for illegal trash dumping, which some opponents said will result from the new program. In the draft plan, the fines could be as high as $1,000. Under town law, Maylor pointed out, the fines could not be less than $50 or more than $300.
Just leaving an unstickered bag out for pickup will not result in a fine, Dansdill said. The Hiltz Waste Disposal crews would just not pick up that bag, but would leave a note explaining why, she said.
The swing vote on the fees appeared to be Vice Chairman Richard Malagrifa, who said he had decided to vote for the measure because it would save the town as much as $100,000, which he said might be used to fix roads.
Strauss chastised Malagrifa before the vote, saying he had opposed the meals tax at the Town Meeting. “Why is this not the same as that?” he asked.
Malagrifa defended himself, saying that every person who dines in a restaurant has to pay the meals tax. If residents want to avoid paying the trash pickup fee, they can recycle more, he said.
Joining Malagrifa in voting for the trash pick up fee were Jill Sullivan and Greenfield.
All the residents who spoke on the issue before the selectmen voted in favor of more recycling, but they differed over whether the program should be voluntary.
Tony Scibelli said, “This is going to punish people.” He objected to having the program imposed, preferring that the Board of Health conduct more educational programs to encourage more recycling. He said the program does not have wide support in the community.
Mary DeChillo, who first learned to recycle in Oregon, said, “This is a great community project.” She said she learned in Oregon that recycling can become a habit. She encouraged the schools to teach recycling in the schools.
“My children became the recycling police,” she said.