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Concord Monitor – Hopkinton is considering new stickers and bag prices to enforce transfer station compliance

Brad Watson, a Hopkinton resident for 50 years, empties his green household goods bag along with his agricultural waste at the Hopkinton Transfer Station on Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024.  Watson is not a fan of the green bags.

Brad Watson, a Hopkinton resident for 50 years, empties his green household goods bag along with his agricultural waste at the Hopkinton Transfer Station on Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024. Watson is not a fan of the green bags.
GEOFF FORESTER

Hopkinton was already struggling to enforce the Green Bag program at the shared transfer station and realized it faces a new problem: Concord residents dumping their trash in the city.

Last Saturday, select board members Thomas Lipoma and Jeffrey Donohue went to the transfer station to conduct spot checks and discovered that residents from other communities, such as Concord, were using their transfer station.

“It was about a 50-50 split between people who had stickers and people who didn’t,” Donohue said during Monday’s work session. “There were a small number of people who were not from Hopkinton or Webster and they were trying to use the transfer station.”

With the Hopkinton transfer station plagued by poor compliance, lax enforcement and a large amount of waste for years, the jury has finally begun discussions on how to address the long-standing problem.

The board’s first step is to issue new permit stickers to ensure the shared transfer station is only used by residents of Hopkinton and Webster.

One of the major loopholes contributing to this abuse is Hopkinton’s poor enforcement of its pay-by-bag program, making it a convenient dumping ground for outsiders.

Dumping different colored trash bags at the transfer station, instead of just the designated green ones, exacerbates the problem, especially considering Webster does not have a pay-per-bag program.

After much discussion, the Select Board decided to implement distinctively shaped or otherwise identifiable stickers for residents of Webster and Hopkinton. The stickers are color coded to match the vehicle inspection stickers, with annual renewals linked to car registrations.

Another problem facing the city is the stagnant pricing of green bags since the program’s inception in 2010.

The price of $1.25 for each large 33-gallon bag and 75 cents for each small 13-gallon bag does not cover the operating costs of the transfer station, which is one of the primary objectives of the pay-by-bag program, apart from the fact that it is an incentive to minimize waste.

Other municipalities, such as Concord, impose significantly higher rates on waste disposal, with residents paying $3.20 per 30-gallon bag and $1.60 per 15-gallon bag.

“The green bags are priced too low. They have been underpriced for at least eight or nine years since the program was first started,” Donohue said. “It’s fourteen years later and the price hasn’t changed. It’s not realistic.”

To cover all operating costs of the transfer station, Lipoma said the fee for smaller bags would have to increase to $1.67 and for larger bags to $2.56, representing an increase of almost 100%.

However, this proposed increase, coupled with insufficient staff to enforce the green bag program, raised concerns among select board member Steven Whitley.

“I think I’m concerned about increasing the price of the bags without a corresponding increase in enforcement because I think we’re just encouraging people not to use green bags,” Whitley said.

Last year, Hopkinton generated $45,000 from green bag sales, with a compliance rate of less than 15%.

But if the jury decides on the new price for the garbage bags, the potential for sales growth is staggering.

Lipoma noted that if the new prices are fully adhered to, sales could increase to $375,000. Neal Cass, the city manager, who has seen the program evolve over the years, recalled that initial revenue generation ranged from $120,000 to $130,000.

To promote compliance, Lipoma floated the idea of ​​contracting with a private carrier for curbside pickup, but select board members quickly dismissed this, citing cost concerns.

These proposed measures are still in the discussion phase. The Select Board plans to hold a public hearing in the coming weeks to share their recommendations and gather input from the community.

While the primary focus of these changes is to strengthen enforcement of the pay-by-bag program, the select board remains undecided on whether to maintain the program or repeal it entirely.

If they choose to eliminate the program, it must be presented to residents at next year’s town meeting

“I don’t like the system we have now. Frankly, it has a lot of flaws that we’re trying to grapple with,” Whitley said. “I guess I haven’t really decided in my mind yet whether we’re at a point where we’re giving up on the Green Bag system completely, or whether we’re trying to bring on more staff and sort out some of the enforcement and other issues .”