Photo: Questions to the DPW concerning cardboard collection spike during the holidays
Will Belmont residents have to pay to get rid of the glut of cardboard coming their way this holiday?
That was the suggestion from the Department of Public Works as it came before the Select Board on Monday, Nov. 9, to discuss setting dates for the annual holiday season collection of cardboard by the town’s Department of Public Works.
Saying the subject of cardboard produces the largest number of calls to his department, DPW Director Jay Marcotte said the town is scheduling a handful of cardboard events in the next few months to collect the excessive amount of corrugated material many residents collect especially during the holiday season.
(Cardboard drop offs is a relatively new event, starting after the introduction of automated trash pickup in 2018 when residents discovered they “had no space in their new recycling bin” to place the excessive amount of cardboard they were acculating, said Marcotte.)
And if past events are the norm, Public Works is expecting upwards of 300 hundred vehicles jam packed with cardboard along Waverley Street and C Street attempting to enter the DPW Yard originally scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5.
But as Select Board Chair Roy Epstein said during Marcotte’s presentation before the board there is “a new wrinkle” to upcoming events: a fee.
The call for a “pay as you throw” scheme for cardboard stems from this spring when the town froze overtime spending due to the reduction of town revenues associated with COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcotte said cardboard can’t stake itself in the five truck-sized containers ready to be filled. The DPW needs a crew.
“We usually have one foreman with three to four workers along with one of the administrative assistants working between five to eight hours,” he said. Add to that expense the likely need for a police detail – yes, cardboard drop-off is like holding a rock concert in Belmont – due to the expected overflow of participants for the upcoming event.
“I’m anticipating that high number for this event because we did not have any drop offs during the spring. Usually by now we would have had two to three events,” said Marcotte. After speaking with the town’s Health Department, the DPW will need additional staff to take down contract tracing information due to the pandemic.
By the end of the day, such an event is expected to cost the DPW up to $2,400 for a Saturday event running from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Without overtime, “this will have to be a self-sustaining event, said Epstein. The cardboard will bring in $400 so the net expense to the town will be in the order of $2,000. A quick back of the envelope calculation came out to approximately $8 to $9.
The initial plan was for residents wanting to drop-off cardboard to head over to the Recreation Department page on the town’s web site to sign up with their contact info and prepay the fee as the event will be cash-free due to COVID-19 and just the ease of making everyone pay online.
“That will probably be the biggest hurdle, getting the documentation,” said Marcotte.
But the fee proposal quickly earned pushback from Board Member Tom Caputo. “I get the principle when it relates to overtime but I also wonder if we are … creating a great deal of resident frustration,” Caputo asked. By forcing the public to pony up for a previously free service on top of requiring them to use a new payment system in the knowledge that many will show up having not paid the new fee “[i]s going to generate a great deal of ill-will,” he said.
A compromise, suggested Caputo, would be to hold the event on a weekday and thus taking overtime out of the equation, a solution fellow board member Adam Dash was amenable to try.
“The whole cost of $2,352 … is such small money that your going to get $2,300 worth of trouble charging $5 or $10 for this,” said Dash, saying that many residents will note the town passed an override a quarter century ago to establish free curbside pickup.
“I’m not happy taking $2,000 away from something else for a repeated event because we’ll have to do it two more times. That’s $6,000,” said Epstein.
And a weekday solution would create its own issues, said Epstein, with long lines of vehicles likely to impede traffic on a busy roadway, annoy the neighbors and clogging up the Town Yard during a busy work day.
While proposals such as drop-offs on consecutive Friday and Saturday one-paid and the other free were bantied about, Marcotte told the board his department simply could not conduct the service “if we don’t charge. I don’t have a budget for it.”
While Caputo said he understood Marcotte’s frustration, “we’ll have to be creative in how we can enable this. Can we try [drop offs] a couple of times during the week and see how that works.”
It was Town Administrator Patrice Garvin who broke the logjam by injecting “I think it’s worth at least a try,” followed by Marcotte saying “I’m open to that.”
Garvin added a caveat of significant outreach to residents along Waverley and C streets on the time span and traffic mitigation for the event now set for the week of Dec. 1.
“We’ll figure it out,” said Garvin.