ORLEANS — When the town says transfer station stickers are on sale, they really mean it.
The stickers aren’t just available. Until July 1, you might even say they’re being offered at a discount.
It’s proposed that the basic sticker price will go up from $140 to $165 as of July 1. But most stickers are sold each year well before that date, so anyone buying a sticker before then can lock in a lower price for the fiscal year that starts in July.
(2021 stickers are available through the town’s mail-in program or online as of April 12. The sticker office at the DPW building, now closed to the public, will open May 10 for walk-up window service only, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
On April 15, the board of health will hold a public hearing on the new fees, which are calculated to cover 63 percent of all direct and indirect costs, except debt service, for the transfer station. The remaining $411,853 would come from property taxes.
The transfer station is one of five town services which will appear on the town meeting warrant as separate, self-funding (to a degree) enterprise funds. The new funds are designed to show the true costs of the operations, including indirect expenses such as fringe benefits, insurance, and support from town departments and an annual amount for capital outlays. If voters reject an enterprise fund budget at town meeting, its costs will have to be added to the general operating budget.
At the health board’s April 1 meeting, member John Smith pointed out that the 63 percent subsidy is not far off from the traditional 80 percent that the transfer station has covered through fees. The difference, he noted, is that indirect costs are being applied in this new model.
The original proposed fee increase, brought forward by Town Administrator John Kelly, Finance Director Cathy Doane, and DPW Director Tom Daley, would have covered 70 percent of costs without a general fund subsidy. In that scenario, however, the basic sticker fees would have jumped to $190, a figure the select board – the first to hear it – thought was too high.
Although the existing sticker fee is almost double that of a half-decade ago, Daley told the board of health April 1 that sales of the basic stickers, residential and commercial, have been steady: 5,500 in Fiscal Year 2015, 5,600 in FY16, 5,516 in FY17, 5,625 in FY18, and 5,523 in FY19. What’s more, he said, “we are the cheapest game in town. People generally can’t go to other towns’ transfer stations,” and private haulers can charge $600 to $800 a year.
“I don’t disagree that we have to be careful with prices,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine. If we go up some, we’ll lose a few, but not enough to make a difference.”
Health board member Sims McGrath said there are two ways to move forward given that the town is “on the path to pay-as-you-throw,” a system in which people would pay by the bag to throw away trash but be able to recycle for free. “We can make pay-as-you-throw look a lot better by making these fees higher and offering a great big discount when we go to pay-as-you-throw,” he said, “or we can work with a reasonable subsidy and discount for pay-as-you-throw when we get there. I don’t think it’s fair to whipsaw the public – high fee, low fee, back and forth… With voluntary recycling, we have not generated the increases we hoped for. This is a wise first step as we work our way into pay as you throw.”
Member Luke Chapman wondered whether the transfer station could attract more business from commercial haulers. “You’re not really solving their problems,” he said. “You’re just letting them bring trash and recycle somewhere else. Trucks don’t really operate like that. They haul it all off to Yarmouth… If we want to reduce transfer station costs to residents, let’s make our transfer station viable for commercial haulers and charge them a lot more money.”
Chapman said “recycling and trash hauling on the Outer Cape is a complete mess. Towns that shall go unnamed don’t accept commercial haulers. All that trash is getting hauled to different towns. I don’t know how that’s legal, forcing commercial haulers to take resident trash to a different town. None of the towns has great recycling programs that support commercial hauling… Orleans could be the solution for towns within 20 miles. The solution is, at least at the commercial level, having single-source recycling so commercial trucks could come in, weigh, unload trash, and dump their recycling.”
Whether the transfer station enterprise fund would ever cover 100 percent of its costs with no general fund subsidy is debatable. “We may actually find a different approach to the transfer station with regard to policy than to moorings and Rock Harbor,” Select Board Chair Kevin Galligan said at his board’s joint meeting with the board of health on March 24. “The transfer station, at least in my mind, serves as a general municipal service that provides for the health and welfare of our town. It may in fact warrant the most generous subsidy of any service in town given the alternatives that are pretty costly.”