Portsmouth awards its first curbside collection contract

Separate RFP still to be issued for transfer station operation

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/17/24

PORTSMOUTH — Taking another step toward establishing the town’s first municipal curbside trash collection program, the Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to award a contract …

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Portsmouth awards its first curbside collection contract

Separate RFP still to be issued for transfer station operation


PORTSMOUTH — Taking another step toward establishing the town’s first municipal curbside trash collection program, the Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to award a contract to MTG Disposal, LLC, also known as MEGA.

MTG was one of four companies that responded to a request for proposals (RFP) the council approved in October 2023 to enter into an exclusive contract for curbside collection of residential waste, recycling, yard waste, and bulky waste for all households not using the town transfer station on Hedly Street. The RFP was advertised in late January and bidding closed near the end of March. The other bidders were Waste Management of R.I., Inc., Republic Services, and Zero Waste Solutions. 

The contract, council members stressed, does not affect the operation of the transfer station, which is under contract until mid-2025. After being pressured by faithful transfer station users, in December 2023 the council voted to issue a separate RFP to maintain the Hedly Street operation and its current services as they exist now. That RFP won’t be released to bidders until December of this year and will be discussed in open session once a recommendation is made by administration on the returned bids.

Whether to continue operating the transfer station as is or establishing a town-wide curbside pickup program has been hotly debated here for years. In October 2017, the Town Council voted 5-2 to stick with the transfer station following a contentious meeting during which the vast majority of speakers said it offered more convenience.

Since then, however, fewer and few residents have been buying stickers to use the Hedly Street station and have switched over to private curbside pickup. Transfer station users now find themselves in the minority; they number about 2,200 households, compared to about 4,000 eligible households that use a private curbside hauler, according to the town’s figures.

What will it cost?

Like the transfer station, the curbside program will operate under a self-sustaining enterprise fund; user fees generated by sticker sales will keep it running, rather than tax dollars

According to figures presented to the council, the projected curbside collection sticker fee per household for the first year of the program, from July 1, 2025 to June 30, 2026, would be about $367 with the extra purchase of pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) bags, and about $442 without the bags. The total annual cost of the program for the first year would be about $1.76 million without PAYT bags, or $1.46 million with bags.

(By comparison, the current sticker fee for the transfer station, set in December 2023, is $385 for an 18-month period starting Jan. 1, 2024 and ending June 30, 2025, when the current transfer station contract expires. That translates to $258.68 a year, about $6 more than the previous 12-month sticker fee.)

The projected costs for curbside collection, however, are dependent on the town being able to get 4,000 households to sign up for the municipal program, as the sticker fee would need to be higher if fewer residents came on board. For example, if only 3,000 households signed up, the sticker fee would need to be about $589 without PAYT bags, and about $489 with the bags, in order to cover costs.

One of the major expenses will be the refuse and recycling carts, or bins — thousands of which will need to be ordered at a cost of roughly $130,000 to $140,000 off the top. Once the town signs the contract, it’s committed to ordering those bins, said Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. 

“That bill is going to come forward before this next fiscal year ends on a budget that you provisionally approved (earlier) tonight. We have to figure out where that money comes from,” he said.

“So if 4,000 people don’t sign up, we don’t have the money to pay for those bins,” said council member Keith Hamilton.

Better deal

Rainer, however, said he’s confident the town can get at least that many residents to enter into the municipal curbside program because it’s a better deal that what’s currently available privately. 

“While it is a risk, we think we’re on safe ground with the number of people that will compare what the town cost is going to be with what they’re already paying,” he said, noting that MTG and Waste Management are currently charging anywhere from $800 to $900 annually for private curbside pickup. “And they don’t offer the services that we will be offering. They don’t offer regular yard waste pickup, and we will.”

Council member Daniela Abbott agreed. While initial, low “teaser rates” can entice some customers to sign up with a private hauler, they’ll eventually see their bills rise, and some contractors don’t pick up recyclables every week like the town will. “I think it’s a no-brainer,” she said.

Council member Charles Levesque added that unlike some private haulers, the town won’t be “screwing around with people” and will always try to offer the lowest cost possible. “We will be consistent,” he said.

Funding the bins

Hamilton suggested taking the bins out of the enterprise fund equation to help lower the curbside sticker price for users. “The fact that we have to purchase all of these bins raises the price considerably. I would like see if there’s a way the town could do it outside of putting it into the cost of the yearly service,” he said. That would also be a good way to start putting trash collection back into the tax base, which the council has been eager to do, he added.

Rainer, however, said subsidizing an enterprise fund would be a problem down the road — especially with those residents who still use the transfer station. 

“The council said we’re going to operate two completely distinct enterprise funds. You can be a member of both, you can be a member of one or the other,” Rainer said. “Not everyone wants to be part of this program. You have people that are going to want to stay with the transfer station and they’re going to say, ‘Well, where’s my piece of the pie?’”

Hamilton said he agreed it’s problematic. “But my recollection of all those trash meetings at the high school? Everybody who was there said, ‘I don’t care if it’s cheaper, I’m staying with the transfer station,’” he said. “They’ve already signed and sealed their fate, as far as I’m concerned. They can’t come back and say, ‘Hey I want a piece of the pie. Why can’t you buy my bins?’”

‘Lazy bums’

Only one member of the public commented on the trash issue Monday night — a faithful transfer station user who characterized those residents who don’t haul their own garbage as listless loafers.

Anyone with a curbside contract has to wait a week before they can get rid of their garbage, plus the bins sit in the street and block traffic, charged Island Park resident Peter Roberts.

“That’s why I use the transfer station,” Roberts said. “If you’ve got the transfer station, you can take it when you want. There are some people who don’t want to do it, because they’re lazy bums.”

Town Council President Kevin Aguiar reminded Roberts, “We are keeping the transfer station.”

Portsmouth Town Council, Portsmouth transfer station, Portsmouth curbside collection

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.