Borough discussing automated refuse

NAUGATUCK — Efforts to begin the switch to automated refuse and recycling collection was discussed Tuesday night at the regular meeting of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.

The board approved a bid for a refuse cart lifter in the amount of $25,800 as well as a bid for refuse and recycling carts in the amount of $380,375. Both votes passed, 9-1, with Burgess Mindy Fragoso opposing each motion. A vote to implement an automated recycling system is expected next month.

Public Work Director Jim Stewart and Refuse and Recycling Coordinator Sheila Baummer presented an update on the plan, sparking much deliberation. Stewart and Baummer supplied the board with information about the changes the borough will undergo if the anticipated switch to automated collection is made.

All borough residents will be given two complementary, 96-gallon trash cans, equivalent to three regular cans—one for trash and one for recycling. The cans will be differentiated by undetermined colors.

Trash will still be collected on a weekly basis—and recycling on a bi-weekly schedule—but many residents’ trash pick-up times will be moved to different days.

Officials hope the proposed switch will save the borough money on the back end after initial expenses are incurred. The system is common in many municipalities across Connecticut.

“The reality is, this is the system that most communities are using,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said. “It saves costs in the long run. It also saves on worker compensation costs and union resources.”

In addition to cost-cutting, a major goal of automated refuse and recycling collection would be to create less trash and promote recycling. Officials hope giving residents only one trash container will force them to recycle items they would usually throw in the trash.

Fees will also be charged to trash-happy residents if the proposal is approved. Additional trash containers will be available, but not without a yearly $150 charge. Also, residents will not be allowed to leave regular trash bags in the driveway next to their trash containers. If residents have extra trash that does not fit into the allotted bin, they will need to use special, logoed bags that will cost them $2.50 apiece.

“That is how we’re keeping people from throwing away a lot of trash and keeping it in the can,” Stewart said. “This will make people hopefully be more diligent in what they recycle. Instead of throwing a cardboard box in the garbage they’ll put it in the recycling, and instead of throwing their cans and bottles in the trash like a lot of people do now, they’ll put it in the recycling so they have more room in the trash. We’re hoping that this is a deterrent.”

The system has been used by some borough residents on a trial basis, and participants did see a move toward more recycling.

“I realized, when we had the containers on a trial basis, I was amazed at how much I ended up recycling,” said Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi. “It was because there was just more room for it.”

Others on the board questioned the finical burden the limits on trash may cause for some households.
“Why shouldn’t we be able to use regular bags for excess trash?” asked Fragoso. “If someone has a party at Christmastime why should they need to buy these bags for $2.50 for excess trash? Why can’t they use a regular garbage bag they bought at store ‘ABC’?”

This is not the only change borough residents will have to adjust to if the proposal is passed next month. The deadline for trash to be put out will change from 7 a.m. to midnight. Stewart said this will accommodate the occasions when trash crews need to get an earlier start due to inclement weather.

Burgess Patrick J. Scully expressed concerned that the possible change in time will cause a problem for some residents whose driveways are so narrow they will have to move the garbage cans every time they wish to get in and out of the driveway.

Not every street will be using the automated system. Narrow roads such as Bradley Street were mentioned as locations where the trucks, with new lifters attached, will not be able to be utilized.

“Certain streets probably won’t ever be fully automated, meaning using the arm on the truck, they will be partially automated,” Baummer said. “There are some streets in town now that the trucks can barely get down without scraping cars on both sides. Those streets will be done with existing trucks with tippers on the back.”

If ultimately passed, easy, wide-open streets will be automated first, giving the borough time to figure out the approach for narrower streets.

Officials are expecting bumps in the road, but agree that the plan could be beneficial and modernize the borough’s refuse and recycling collection.

“If anyone thinks this is going to be a seamless transition without any glitches along the way, they are being over-optimistic,” Mezzo said. “It’s change, and people will unfortunately struggle with that. I’ll struggle, too, because I’ve chased the truck and unfortunately you don’t always catch it, you forget it, they come at different schedules, shame on me. But  I think this is Naugatuck moving into what the norm is in the industry.”

Stewart recommended that no vote be called for at the meeting, saying multiple forums are coming up this month, where the plan will be discussed. An information session will be held on Thursday, Sept. 16 from 9-12 p.m. at the Senior Center, where Stewart and Baummer will be on hand to answer questions. There will also be a public information session at Naugatuck Town Hall on Monday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. regarding the matter.

The proposal will also be considered at a Sept. 22 Street Commission meeting, where Stewart hopes policy and recommended fees will be solidified. It is probable that after these steps, an up-or-down vote at the regular borough board meeting on Oct. 5 will be called.