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Oct 14, 2008 7:45 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Town could privatize dump operations

Oct 14, 2008 7:45 AM

Looking for ways to cut spending as the Town Board reviews the supervisor’s 2009 budget proposal, some town officials are thinking of hiring a private company to run the town dump and recycling center.

Officials looking at the move say any proposal to switch is a long way off and that the jobs of the more than 30 sanitation department workers would probably be safe, even if the town went ahead with the idea.

But some board members are concerned that the proposal is a bad idea in principle.

“I’m worried that a private carter would drop recycling, since that’s what costs money,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said. “If somebody says they’re going to save millions, there is no intention of recycling. None of that is worth anything these days except brown glass. You’d have to go to the community and ask them if they want to give up recycling.”

Ms. Mansir said she would want to see any plans for privatizing the dump include guarantees that would protect recycling and the jobs of Sanitation Department employees.

The idea to privatize the dump has been kicked around Town Hall for years. As the need for big cuts and influxes of money has grown with the revelation that the town is operating at a multimillion deficit, the proposal has taken on new life.

Councilwoman Julia Prince confirmed recently that she has been investigating privatization of dump operations as a possible way to cut town spending. Town financial consultant Nicholas Lynn, whom the board hired to overhaul the town bookkeeping department and streamline operations, has also looked into the proposal, she said.

“At this point and time, we need to find savings in every aspect of how we do business in the town,” Ms. Prince said in an interview earlier this month. “We would, of course, have to talk with the people at the dump” and Sanitation Department head Gene Garypie “before we do anything; but I think it is worth investigating. The idea is to get us out of this $15-million hole without costing people their jobs.”

Ms. Prince said that, should the town privatize the operation, she thinks employees could be shifted to other departments to preserve jobs.

The town spends almost $8 million a year to operate the recycling and garbage transfer station but brings in only a little more than $2 million a year in user fees. In his budget plan, Supervisor Bill McGintee has proposed large increases in those fees for the second year in a row but the town still expects to use $5 million in general fund tax revenues to run the dump in 2009.

Mr. Lynn, who was hired in late August, said that privatizing the dump is one of many money-saving proposals that were being discussed. He said he is not sure if privatizing the dump operation would really solve any problems, financially or otherwise.

“We have to look at every possibility to rationalize taxpayer expense,” Mr. Lynn said. “I think the board is very sensitive to studying the full impact that kind of thing would have on employment, the environment, the impact on lives of residents.”

Ms. Prince acknowledged that it may be difficult to find private companies that even would be interested in taking over the dump operations if the town were to insist on continued recycling. She said that, if a private operator could not be found, charging users more in fees would be necessary, perhaps through implementation of a garbage bag program like Southampton’s and Shelter Island’s. Those town require residents to throw their garbage away in special bags sold through retailers by the town. Bag programs boost recycling but can cost users far more than the flat fees East Hampton charges.

Last year, the Town Board agreed to raise the cost of a town dump sticker from $50 to $70, with the cost for senior citizens remaining at $50. Supervisor McGintee’s proposed budget calls for another hike to $104 for most residents and $70 for senior citizens. At last week’s board meeting Mr. McGintee argued that the millions in tax dollars needed to run the dump should be minimized as much as possible by spreading costs to those who use the dump. He said the increased fees would still cost residents far less than a bag program.

In other discussions about raising revenues at the dump, Ms. Mansir has proposed converting a large unused portion of the 10-acre property into light industrial development for lease to local businesses such as landscapers. Ms. Mansir also said that the town could cut its costs at the dump in a variety of other ways without privatizing. She said cutting back on the amount of construction debris the town accepts would be one way, as would abandoning the composting building, which she said is rarely used and in need of repairs.

“It’s all been raked over before,” Ms. Mansir said of the privatization discussion. “We’ve researched in the past and it failed in the past.”

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15 million bucks in the hole and you got board members already against this cost cutting idea? Why not just keep screwing the taxpayers 18 percent a year in taxes for the next 20 years? Some really brillant people you got on the East Hampton Town board. Funny if it wern't so sad.
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Oct 20, 08 8:02 PM