Burlington Councilors Debate Chittenden Solid Waste District Budget

May 15, 2019

During Monday evening’s Burlington City Council meeting, the head of the Chittenden Solid Waste District presented its fiscal 2020 budget proposal.  Some of the city’s representatives were concerned about fee increases planned by the district.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District manages the garbage produced in the 18 towns and cities across Vermont’s largest county.  According to its proposed 2020 budget, drop off centers will raise tipping fees and implement “several modest fee increases.”

Burlington City Council Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy chairs the Transportation, Energy and Utility Committee.  “What we really focused in on at the committee level was the issue of increases in and changes in the composting program as well as the increases in tip fees for recycling  and really engaging in a debate and a conversation around whether it was appropriate for those to be going up but not to be seeing a commensurate or not seeing that necessarily balanced out by trash.”  

Chittenden Solid Waste District Executive Director Sarah Reeves told councilors there is an adjustment between trash and user fees.  “We are raising fees on trash. What we are not raising is the trash tax. That is separate from the fees that we charge at the drop off centers. The fees that we charge at the drop off centers are going up. Burlington’s a little different because the drop off centers charge by the pound so that fee is going up from 19 cents per pound to 21 cents per pound on trash. But at the other drop off centers we pay by the bag. The 18 gallon bag is being increased by 25 cents. The 33 gallon bag is being increased by 50 cents and there are other fees that are also increasing.”

East District Progressive Councilor Jack Hanson was also not comfortable with the waste district’s budget proposal.  “We’re at a point where waste is increasing and the number one goal of CSWD (Chittenden Solid Waste District) is to reduce waste.  I am not compelled that this budget carries that out. And I also have a serious concern around when we have mandatory compost coming just next year we’re now increasing the tipping fees on composting ahead of that.”

Ward 1 Independent Councilor Sharon Foley Bushor wanted to know what the status of the waste district budget with partner communities.  “Have you presented to any other communities and have you gotten any yeses to the budget? Where are you in this process?”
Reeves:  “I have to visit 18 communities and I have visited four.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger was taken aback by the debate over the waste district budget.  “I’m struggling to remember a time in the last seven years when we’ve seen anything like this debate plan out.  I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s not the way Burlington should be engaging with our other municipalities. To be considering voting against funding this vital government function just seems totally unfair. And to be now at the last minute suggesting that Burlington is not support the budget I just think would send entirely the wrong message to our municipal partners.”

Ward 5 Democratic Councilor Chip Mason agreed with the mayor.  “I heard the economics apparently differently than those on the other side of the table. I mean the cost of recycling the cost of composting is going up. They’ve been subsidized for an inordinate amount of time. We’re in a different world so I think unfortunately this is the new reality and I don’t think sending a message that we’re not going to approve your budget this is not in my estimation the appropriate time to do that and I’ll be supporting this budget.”

City Councilors passed the Chittenden Solid Waste District budget on a 9 to 3 vote.  

Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.