GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 18, 2013

City trash pickups don't add up for nonprofits

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Many of Gloucester’s nonprofits were forced to privately contract their trash pickup this fall, when the city cracked down on an ordinance that prohibits the non-profits from participating in regular pickup.

But some are hoping that will change, as Gloucester prepares to draft a new contract with the city trash collecting agency.

“The one ray of hope is that the councilors will remember this issue when the next municipal trash contract comes up for their consideration,” said Bill Thoms, a member of the Orthodox Congregation Church of Lanesville who petitioned city councilors to reconsider the ordinance in January.

City councilors first changed an ordinance to specify that nonprofits would not be included in city trash pickup in April 2011. But when members and directors of some of Gloucester’s non-profits, began receiving letters from the city telling them to cease their trash operations this past fall, they were shocked. Thoms then asked city councilors to reconsider on behalf of the city’s array of resident-serving nonprofits.

“It was quite a shock to be notified and told that we need to cease participation,” Thoms said. “What is the purpose of these organizations, but to make the lives of our residents better?”

Hiltz Disposal, the city’s contracted trash collection provider, would charge an additional $76,278 to the city annually to add the nonprofits to its routes, according to minutes from a January council committee meeting.

That estimate, calculated by Hiltz, includes a $50,000 disposal fee, an almost $20,000 collection cost, and another chunk of cash for supplies.

The private contractor would also charge another $292,419 to collect trash from Gloucester’s multi-family homes that house more than four families – another group not covered under current pickup schedules, according to the minutes.

The three councilors on the city Ordinances and Administration council committee, hearing the estimated cost from public works employees at the January meeting before making a decision, voted unanimously to close discussion on the topic without making any changes.

According to Director of Public Works Mike Hale, the city was never supposed to have picked up trash from nonprofits, but had been picking it up at some non-profits by chance. If a nonprofit moved into a building that used to be a private home, for example, Hiltz might accidentally have collected their trash in Gloucester’s trademark purple “Barney” bags.

“I can’t say we never did. We were never supposed to,” Hale said. “If they told me to pickup every bit of trash in the city and they funded it, we’d pickup every bit of trash in the city. All we’re doing is following rules that were defined for us.”

Hale said the April 2011 decision to change the ordinance’s wording was simply meant to clear up language in the ordinance that public works must follow.

“That was just clearing up some language that was maybe a little ambiguous,” Hale said.

Having privately run trash collections can place a real burden on the nonprofits, which, by definition, are geared toward spending their money on community service.

The Wellspring residences have always paid separate contracts for trash collection, as they are multi-family units, but the nonprofit was tasked with raising money to fund a trash contract too for the Essex Avenue headquarters, when they received a letter last fall, according to director Kay O’Rourke.

“It’s an expense. We’ve had to raise money to do it. We’d rather raise money to go directly to our programs, but this is what we have to do,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke said she also hopes city councilors reconsider including small nonprofit businesses in trash collection as part of an unspoken social contract.

“We’re providing services to citizens that, if we weren’t doing it, the city would have to find a way to do,” O’Rourke said. “We need some help to be able to do that.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.