Warren mulls ending free dumping as costs set to rise sharply

New contract with state will force "tough choices" to control costs, town manager says

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/14/21

Warren will soon start paying the state significantly more to take its trash. And with rates set to rise each of the next two years, the town is exploring cost savings measures including the possible …

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Warren mulls ending free dumping as costs set to rise sharply

New contract with state will force "tough choices" to control costs, town manager says

Posted

Warren will soon start paying the state significantly more to take its trash. And with rates set to rise each of the next two years, the town is exploring cost savings measures including the possible elimination of free bulky item drop-offs at the transfer station on Birchswamp Road.

Warren currently pays $47 to drop one ton of waste at the Central Landfill in Johnston, and is charged $80 for every ton dropped over the allowable cap set by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. Under a contract Warren Town Manager Kate Michaud has already or will soon sign, the overage rate will increase from $80 to $90 next year. In the contract's second year (fiscal year 2022-2023) that base rate will climb to $54 per ton, with the overage rate climbing again, from $90 to $100.

"I think it's time to maybe look at some tough decisions and tough choices to try and maintain these costs," Ms. Michaud told the Warren Town Council Tuesday.

Last year, Warren hauled 4,141 tons of solid waste to the Central Landfill, paying for 3,144 tons at the base rate and 997 tons at the over-the-cap rate. She said the town is currently trending 4.5 percent over that rate, in large part due to changes in residents' habits during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year's overage total was $79,960, and even if Warren dumps the same amount over the cap this coming year, the bill will rise to close to $100,000. By 2022-23, when both the base and over-the-cap rates increase, the town could find itself in a precarious position.

"It's not possible for us to absorb just the ... increase in the base rate in 2022-23 when you couple that with the increase in tonnage that we're experiencing. Just that alone, even if we could eliminate that cap" and haul less garbage, "is going to bust our budget."

No more free dumping?

In response, Ms. Michaud suggested that as of July 1, the town eliminate the long-time service given to holders of transfer station stickers — that the first $800 pounds are free. No other municipality in the state offers such a generous freebie, she said.

"I know that it will not be a popular action," she acknowledged.

Eliminating the free drop-off for sticker holders is not yet set in stone. Councilors directed Ms. Michaud research how much doing away with the service will save the town, and get back to them for the June meeting. Councilor Steve Calenda suggested either phasing out the free dumping over several years or increasing the sticker fee, and council vice president John Hanley said he wants to know if the amount of money eliminating the service would save the town justifies it.

"We're not going to be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars" by doing away with the free 800-pound service, he said.

But DPW Director Jan Malik said he agrees with Ms. Michaud's suggestion:

"I support (her) proposal to be honest with you."

Apart from directing Ms. Michaud to look into the numbers, councilors said one of the biggest priorities in the coming months will be to lay out the town's obligations and costs to the public, and explain why costs are going up and why savings measures are necessary. Public services are one of the biggest gripes they hear, councilors said, and education is key:

"All I ever get from people is criticism that they pay their taxes, and now we're taking away their (free) access to the dump," councilor Joseph DePasquale said. "The game of trash is changing. That's the message I'm more focused on getting out to people. The sad reality is it's changing and we don't really even have much say," because the town is basically forced to sign the contract offered by the state, or lose access to the landfill.

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