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Pittsfield City Council Hits Pause On Trash Talk

A stone building with a colonnade sits below a grey sky amid snowdrifts.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council has postponed a proposed overhaul of its trash system until at least 2022.

The petition from At-Large City Councilors Peter Marchetti, Pete White and Earl Persip to implement a “Pay As You Throw” program in the city had a rocky reception when it was introduced at the January 26th city council meeting.

“I can’t believe during a global pandemic we are going to try and put another fee and burden on city residents when people are forced to stay home, and yes, more garbage is being picked up," said Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio, who described the timing of the petition as mind-boggling. “People are struggling day to day to provide for their families. People getting evicted from their homes, being not able to pay their mortgages. Daily expenses are doubling if not more. Food banks are packed – so many people who can’t go without food.”

At Wednesday night’s committee of the whole meeting, the petition’s authors framed the measure as an attempt to foment conversation around a growing problem.

“This is a program that needs to put forward, and yes, it’s not popular to put this program forward right now," said Marchetti. “In fiscal year ’16, our solid waste disposal cost was $981,000. In fiscal year ’20, it was almost $1.3 million. The solid waste cost is going to continue to rise year in and year out.”

Currently, Pittsfield offers unlimited trash pickup for residents.

“There are only two communities in Berkshire County that have taxpayer funded curbside pickup – and they are the city of Pittsfield and the town of Richmond," said city finance director Matt Kerwood. “Every other community in Berkshire County either has private haulers or a transfer station, and/or a transfer station and private haulers.”

“Just as a reminder that residents are paying for solid waste today through their taxes," said Steve Lisauskas. "The purpose of the proposal is to pay how people pay, and by changing how people pay, it can change how much.”

Lisauskas is Vice President of Government Affairs at WasteZero, the North Carolina-based company that would contract with Pittsfield if the city pursues the “Pay As You Throw” plan.

“We’re looking at probably at least probably at least .2 million dollars, $200,000 worth of savings just by changing how people pay for the service,” he said.

Vocal opposition to the plan persisted, with councilors like Ward 4’s Christopher Connell saying it was wrong to explore sweeping changes to city services without a broader conversation with the community.

“We have a high majority of senior citizens living in this community," said Connell. "They are not going to call into Zoom. They don’t even watch the council meetings. They don’t read The Eagle anymore, OK? And we’re trying to jam these things down their throat, whether it’s this, whether it’s the ‘At Home’ program, whatever it is, alright? We should not even be considering this.”

Ward 1’s Helen Moon said the education campaign that would make a trash system overhaul successful is not possible over Zoom.

“For my parents, for instance, who live in the city of Pittsfield and who are very limited English speakers, my concerns are for immigrants like my parents who may not really follow the city of Pittsfield news and how we are enforcing things, and to their knowledge, they just need to take our their trash once a week on their trash day,” she said.

“The way the current proposal stands, our residents are not in agreement," said Ward 5 city councilor Patrick Kavey. “With every large proposal that has come forward, I have had constituents reach out to me directly, and with every single proposal up until this point there have been people on both sides of the aisle. And with this one, it has been just an overwhelming ‘no’ from the community and I think a lot of this may have had to do with how this was originally brought up and how it was reported in the paper with not a ton of information.”

The petition was amended to have an enactment date of July 1st, 2022 to buy the city time to further discuss the measure, which was tabled.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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