Town board members discussed municipal trash collection at their special budget meeting Monday, Nov. 14, and after more than a few exchanges of angry words, decided to eliminate it for 2012 and keep local property taxes flat, avoiding a predicted 15 to 18 percent increase.
After 90 minutes of heated discussion Monday, Nov. 14, the Thurman Town Board adopted a 2012 budget that eliminated its treasured tradition of townwide, curbside trash collection.
The decision hung in the balance for the evening with three of five board members expressing support to retain the service — rare in the region for a rural town — until councilwoman Rebecca Hitchcock changed her position as the reality of a pending 15 to 20 percent tax hike sunk in.
“I just can’t do that to the taxpayers of Thurman,” she said as she cast her vote for a budget that abandons the municipal trash collection and calls for a zero percent tax rate increase.
Earlier in the evening, Hitchcock and fellow board members Leon Galusha and Charlie Bills had expressed solid opposition to eliminating the trash pickup, based on the many calls they received from concerned residents.
But board member Al Vasak and town Supervisor Evelyn Wood noted that the town would soon need a replacement trash truck, and the town would have to start saving tens of thousands of dollars per year if trash collection were to continue for long.
Vasak characterized trash collection as a luxury, and observed it was unfair for owners of vacant land to pay for trash collection when they didn’t have any. Several people in the audience echoed his point.
Vasak and Wood said that amount of trash collected in town — about eight tons per week — was “ridiculous” or “excessive” for the 338 families living in town. They and others at the meeting speculated that trash was being brought in by outsiders seeking free disposal.
Leon Galusha argued that the town ought to prosecute the offenders, but keep trash collection. He and Bills maintained that municipal trash collection would cost far less to the average homeowner than alternative disposal methods.
After the board unanimously approved a fiscal safety measure of a tax-cap override, Hitchcock changed her mind on the budget and cast her vote for the spending plan that call for no increase in tax rate — 3.33 per thousand in 2011.
The amount to be raised by taxes for 2012 is set at $599,560 versus a 2010 tax levy of $591,118 in 2011. The difference in the two figures is expected to be absorbed by an aggregate assessment shift.
Total 2012 appropriations were set at $1,495,506, to be reduced by $729,603 in revenues, and offset by $166,343 of fund balance. Appropriations for 2011 totalled $1,690,066 in 2011, minus 759,948 in revenues, with $339,000 of fund balance.
The budget called for elimination of the summer recreation program, a move that Wood characterized as temporary. Also, the budget reflects a voluntary pay cut of 3 percent in the town bookkeeper’s salary.
Municipal trash collection is likely to continue into mid-January until details are worked out for a smooth transition, Wood said. Residents can buy color-coded bags to pay for their disposal, with a 15-gallon bag going for $1, and a 33-gallon bag costing $2.
The new system is expected to raise $70,000 or so in revenue, and might result in a surplus that will lower taxes, town officials said. The cessation of free collection is expected to slash the tonnage of trash collected as people will be influenced to separate the recyclable materials out of their trash — and these materials will also likely yield extra revenue for town taxpayers.
In 2011, disposing of the tonnage cost taxpayers $80,620 plus costs of fuel, vehicle depreciation, and employee retirement premiums. Personnel money once spent on collection is to be shifted to manning the town transfer station, which is located off Mountain and Irving Baker roads. Board members said they expect that the facility to be open four to five days per week, including Sunday.
Wood said thursday that if that residents find that taking their trash to a central facility is too burdensome or expensive, the board could always revert in 2013 to municipal pickup.
“We’ll see how it goes,” she said.