Needham Transfer Station processes tons of waste from commercial haulers

For the first time in a decade the Select Board will be raising the rates paid by commercial haulers to dispose of the waste they collect from Needham and other communities at the Recycling and Transfer Station (RTS). But not right away.

The base fee is likely to increase 43%, going from $140 per ton to $200 per ton. The Select Board signaled support for the $200 rate but will defer implementation in response to concerns raised by haulers that the size of the increase is too much to absorb at one time. The haulers fear it will cause rate shock to their customers, and residents feel it could possibly harm the business prospects of smaller Needham-based trash removal firms.

The Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Committee recommended the increase, which was the subject of a Select Board public hearing July 25.  At that hearing, Bill Connors, vice-chair of the committee, explained that Needham’s rate had fallen to the lowest in the surrounding area, causing the RTS to become the destination of choice for haulers serving other communities.

“Historically, we’ve always tried to have a fair rate that has been in line with our neighboring communities,” Connors explained. “Given the time since our last fee adjustment (2013), we are now at the bottom.”

Other communities at the high end of the range have rates from $300-to-$400 per ton, with a typical rate averaging around $200.

The Select Board received more than 50 emails objecting to the increase prior to its meeting last week. Nearly all were from customers of local firms Dalton Disposal and J.C. Timmerman Inc. Waste Removal Services, as well as emails from John Timmerman and Mark and Desiree Dalton.

In addition to objecting to the rate hike, many residents voiced complaints that the town doesn’t provide curbside trash pickup as a standard town service.

The Select Board heard the message and will consider whether to implement the fee in one installment or stagger it over time.

“Maybe we can do this in a more incremental fashion, at least for our local haulers, rather than doing a decade’s worth of increase in one fell swoop,” said Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley.

During the pandemic, the town effectively had a moratorium on fee increases in general, and has since been playing catch-up on multiple fee structures.

“We’re attracting more outside activity than we’d prefer to see,” Connors said. “The committee deliberated and unanimously recommended we raise the fee to be more of a market rate.”

Ideally, the RTS prefers to maintain a 50-50 balance of volume between trash from commercial haulers and from residents who bring their own trash using the throw-by-bag system.  The increased volume from outside vendors has pushed that ratio closer to 60/40 and is pulling resources away from the rest of the RTS, making it difficult to service the areas used by community members.

“The rate is designed to be affordable for the residents,” Matt DeMarrais, superintendent of the recycling and solid waste division of the DPW, said at the July public hearing. “My goal is to make sure contractors who are serving residents are paying a rate that’s in line with what it costs the town.”

He acknowledged that the local hauling firms that use the RTS are also members of the community. “They’re small businesses and we want to support them. That’s important to me,” DeMarrais said.

While the board ultimately voted to delay the imposition of the fee, multiple board members raised equity concerns — that residents who use the pay-per-throw bags have effectively been subsidizing lower rates for residents who use private haulers.

The bag rates were raised in 2018 (large bags/$20 for 10 bags) and 2016 (small bags/$10.75 for 10). Those rates will not be increased this year.

The issue will go back to the Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Committee, which will discuss an implementation schedule at its Sept. 19 meeting. The issue will then return to the Select Board for action at its Oct. 10 meeting, which would be a public hearing and allow public comment.

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