December 13, 2006

Councilman Talks Trash Cash

It's all about transparency.

So said Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi about a recent increase in the town waste management fee structure aimed at helping the town waste management department become a self-sustaining operation.

Since taking office, Nuzzi, the town board liaison to the waste management department, has worked to assess day-to-day operations in the department and administer changes that would increase efficiency and enhance transparency for the taxpayer.

In 1996, said Nuzzi, when landfills ceased operation in Southampton, the sanitation department was placed under the division of public works with a goal of creating a revised solid waste management plan.

The town board established the pay-per-bag garbage bag concept under which fees are placed into a fund supported by user fees to reduce reliance on general tax revenue.

In addition, Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney began work with Cashin Associates to create a business plan for the town waste management department, which is currently in draft form.

Nuzzi explained that the town board's new budget included a series of price hikes aimed at offsetting a net operating loss associated with recycling, since revenue from the marketing of recyclables often fails to subsidize the full cost of the operation.

Beginning December 1, Southampton Town residents saw an increase in waste management costs: Prices of green bags are now $.15 per large bag or $14.50 for a pack of five 33 gallon bags; small bags cost $.10 per small bag or $7.50 for a pack of five 13 gallon bags.

In order to fund the cost of collection and disposal of bulk items, residents will see an increase in bulk item fees by 10%; these fees are up to $180 from $162 per ton for collection, transportation and tipping costs.

And the cost for collection and disposal of construction debris has increased $25 per ton to $155 per ton of residential removal of construction debris.

Nuzzi said that in the next months, the town is looking to hire a solid waste coordinator to implement policies and supervise staff in each of the town's four distinct off-site transfer station operations in North Sea, Sag Harbor, Hampton Bays and Westhampton. "That's something that's remained lacking," said Nuzzi, since the position was last vacated.

Another new development that will enhance transparency is departmental chargebacks to the park and highway departments.

Nuzzi pointed out another new facet of town waste management policy that will restrict use of the facilities to town residents only. Registration stickers will be issued at a fee of $5 to those utilizing the facilities. "Not everyone uses the transfer stations," said Nuzzi. "It's unfair to put it on the backs of taxpayers who may be paying for private carters."

The new system will be similar to beach permitting and phased in over the next several months. Stickers will be available by calling town hall or the department of waste management, and eventually Nuzzi hopes to make ordering the stickers an option on the Internet.

The councilman also discussed a North Sea transfer station redevelopment plan, which was met with the approval by residents and calls for aesthetic improvements and functions, with possible relocation of scales to enhance design and flow of traffic as well as the conveyance of property to the North Sea substation. A similar project in East Hampton has made the facility "cleaner and more efficient."

Nuzzi has had conversations with employees at the transfer stations who have offered helpful suggestions on new ideas to incorporate into the sites. "They'll certainly be a part of the process," he said.

Nuzzi said the message to residents is that the goal is "reorganization and efficiency when it comes to their tax dollars."

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