Sunday, April 6, 2008

Recycling in Westbrook, Continued

A couple days ago, I outlined the positions of Westbrook's public officials on the issue of recycling in Westbrook. Mayor Bruce Chuluda and City Councilor John O'Hara favor a pay-per-bag system, whereas I had City Councilors Brendan Rielly and City Councilor Michael Foley pegged as supporters of an automated system.

Add City Councilor Drew Gattine to the latter list.

In an e-mail Councilor Gattine sent to me on Friday, he acknowledged Westbrook "need[s] a better system than the one we have now, for sure." He then pointed out that recycling rates of Scarborough and Saco, two towns with an automated curbside pick-up program, have approached those of towns who use a pay-per-bag system. And then he subsequently offered the following critique of a pay-per-bag program:

"My primary objection to pay per bag is the economic cost shifting to the residents, especially low and moderate income citizens. If you want to look at it in terms of winners and losers here is how it breaks down: Business property owners are the big winners. They benefit from an offset in the mil rate and don't have to pick up any additional cost. Owners of rental properties are winners. The (sic) benefit from an offset in the mil rate. They can decide whether to pass this benefit on to the tenants. Residential taxpayers lose. For the vast majority, the impact on the mil rate will not offset the increased cost of the bags. People who rent lose biggest. They will need to start purchasing bags (unless they have very benevolent landlords) and will realize no savings."

This whole pay-per-bag v. automated curbside pickup debate may be a moot one, however, as Councilor Gattine is skeptical that the City Council will actually be able to enact any program this year that will improve Westbrook's anemic 8% recycling rate. First, he points out that any program--including a pay-per-bag system--will require an increase in current funding and predicts "it will be very difficult in this budget year to add any new programs that cost money." Moreover, despite his assertion that there is "strong interest in an automated curbside pick-up plan like Saco and Scarborough," and that "the current Council does not support pay per bag," Councilor Gattine won't venture a guess as to whether the Council would be able to override Mayor Chuluda's likely veto for a budget that includes an automated curbside system.

The positions of City Councilor Dotty Aube and City Councilor Suzanne Joyce on this issue are still unknown to this writer. And the Westbrook Republican Committee will be nominating a Republican to fill the vacancy in Ward Three tonight.

- John C.L. Morgan

P.S. Councilor Gattine also took issue with my description of the Committee of the Whole's action on Monday night regarding recycling: "We didn't ask the administration to 'to look into this issue' again. We requested that they go out finally and solicit bids to get us numbers that are more than estimates. We need hard numbers."

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