LEWISTON — Work on a yearlong educational and promotional program aimed at publicly vetting a paid trash collection program could begin next week.
Public Works Director David Jones said he’ll present a revamped contract with trash collection company WasteZero as soon as the next City Council meeting, Aug. 17.
“The 12 months begin when the contract is signed,” Jones said. “It’s really up to the Finance Committee at that point and, if they sign it, the contract begins.”
WasteZero’s educational program would include scheduling several public meetings and creating a promotional website.
Councilors said that’s what matters.
“The absolute most important thing to me is providing as many public meetings as possible,” Councilor Mark Cayer said. “Because, in the end, they are the people who are going to be screaming in support of it or screaming against it.”
Councilors approved the paid trash collection educational program last month. They agreed to pay WasteZero $30,000 to explain to residents how the program would work. If the city adopts the program, WasteZero will help launch it, stay on to provide customer service and forgive the $30,000.
Jones said Finance Committee members had questions about the program, including how sales tax would be charged for the bags and how many public meetings the company would schedule. Councilors on Tuesday answered some of those concerns, but added some new ones.
The plan calls for people to buy special trash bags at local stores. City crews would collect only curbside trash left in those bags.
City recycling would continue to be free. The paid-bag program would let the city stop paying for curbside trash collection costs with property taxes, a roughly $1.2 million savings.
That savings could be used to pay down the city’s tax rate, reducing it by about 66 cents for an entire year of the program, or about 44 cents if the program starts midyear. That would be a savings of between $66 and $99 in property taxes on a $150,000 home.
The bags would likely sell for about $2 for a 30-gallon bag and about $1.25 for a 15-gallon bag. All residents would be able to leave their trash out in the special bags.
City Administrator Ed Barrett said he estimated the city would pay about $8,500 per year in state sales tax. Those costs would be included in the sale price of the bags and paid by the city, he said.
The company’s plan calls for four public meetings, plus five meetings with individual stakeholder groups, such as landlords and the Chamber of Commerce.
Cayer said he’d rather see fewer meetings with specific groups and more general public meetings.
“The stakeholder meetings, for me, are the least important,” he said. “We need one or two but four or five is too much. I say you have a meeting and invite all the stakeholders along.”
Cayer also wanted assurances the city could back out the agreement if there is no public support.
“Where is it in this contract that says, two weeks in, we don’t want to be paying any more?” Cayer said.
Jones said the contract could be structured to let the city out by paying as little as possible. The city would agree to pay $5,000 on signing the deal, but later payments could be made when the public meetings are finished or the website goes online.