Recycling the Recycling Debate

 By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Resuming an ongoing debate, the Cold Spring Village Board last week weighed the costs of village-run garbage and recycling collection versus outsourcing the job and on a three-way vote ultimately decided to draft an RFP – request for proposals – to solicit bids from private contractors. Occurring at the board’s Dec. 20 workshop, the refuse collection review – the second in a week — featured often-heated exchanges between Mayor Seth Gallagher and Trustee Airinhos Serradas, who presented different cost analyses. Also that evening, the board talked of health care and traffic issues and repealed an earlier declaration on fire company autonomy. [Cold Spring Board Rescinds Declaration of Fire Company Independence, Dec. 21]

The village highway department collects garbage early Tuesday mornings and recyclable glass, plastic, cardboard, and paper on Friday mornings.  For garbage and recycling in the current fiscal year (June 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012) the village budgeted $116,000 but now projects spending $122,377. In fiscal 2010-11, it spent $118,346.

According to Serradas, who offered “four different scenarios” based on the potential purchase, or not, of a new truck, the cost of village government collection of garbage and recycling ranges from $157,468 to $196,701, with a per unit-residence cost of $202.40 to  $252.83. Under Serradas’ model, based on what Nelsonville pays a private firm, Royal Carting Service Co., for garbage and recycling services, outsourcing would cost Cold Spring $224.51 per unit-residence.

Using data compiled with Village Accountant Ellen Mageean, the mayor put Cold Spring’s cost at $253.88 per residence with the purchase of a new truck, if the village continues to collect garbage and recycling directly, and at $333.23 per residence if it pays a private contractor to do the chore (assuming no layoffs of highway department staff).  He said that he had spoken with a Royal executive and confirmed that for outsourced service the per-unit Cold Spring cost would equal that of Nelsonville. Currently, Cold Spring collects garbage and recycling from 778 households. At the $224.51 Nelsonville per-unit rate, Cold Spring’s total cost would be $174,668.74 under outsourcing.  However, Gallagher said, that in addition to the regular garbage and recycling pick-up, the village highway department also does extra collections – picking up leaves in the fall and garbage from special events and from the Main Street business area, as well as collecting garbage from more than can per household, unlike an outsourcing firm.  All in all, according to the data he presented, Cold Spring’s costs for garbage and recycling would be $61,732 higher with outsourcing (provided no village staff cutbacks take place).“It’s a waste of time” to pursue RFPs for outsourcing, Gallagher said. “We can’t afford it.” Preparing an RFP can involve compilation of detailed information on needs, conditions, and goals.

“I’ve asked for this board to look at this and be smart about it,” Serradas countered, pushing for an RFP. “Oftentimes I speak the truth, and that bothers you.” Gallagher voted against the measure calling on the village to undertake an RFP. Trustees J. Ralph Falloon and Charles Hustis joined Serradas in voting in favor of it, and Trustee Bruce Campbell abstained.

Serradas also maintained that removing the highway department personnel from garbage and recycling assignments would free them for other village jobs. To that end, he wanted the mayor and/or department heads to provide detailed lists of projects each department might tackle. So far, he said, Gallagher has given him information but “it is not detailed.”

Gallagher said that unless highway department employees were dismissed to cut costs, contracting with an outside refuse firm would increase village expenses, since village taxpayers would be paying the outside firm while likewise paying highway department staff, whatever duties they perform.

“You can’t come up with anything that would save money,” he told Serradas. As for assembling the detailed department-by-department pending-project list Serradas seeks, Gallagher added, “why don’t you do the work? You’re not going to ‘task’ me or any employee” with it.  When Serradas promised to help pull together an RFP, Gallagher warned him to not foist the assignment on the village office staff. “It’s not going to be like the last RFP you were going to do,” he said, without elaborating. “There’s an RFP going out,” Serradas assured him. “You don’t have to worry your head on it.”

Employee insurance
Again, often with clashing opinions, the mayor and Serradas also took the lead in discussing employee health benefits. The existing package “is not a Cadillac plan, it’s a Rolls Royce plan,” Serradas said. Gallagher noted that village officials have discussed the matter with employees, who “understand that … there has to be some cost-sharing” to pare village costs. He said that employees currently pay 1 percent and that many are willing to increase their portion but wish to keep the same insurer.

Serradas said that options Gallagher cited might save the village some $19,000 but that using a different insurer could save $70,000. He also questioned employee attitudes a recent meeting on the issue.  “They walked in too hot-headed,” he said.

Traffic and parking
Hustis and Serradas presented a memo on improving traffic-control signs on several streets and on instituting a system of residential parking permits, which would require approval of the New York State Legislature. In part, their ideas on better signage follow on-street surveys conducted with Officer-in-Charge George Kane of the Cold Spring Police Department. The suggestions include:

  • Maximum parking stays of 48 hours on all or parts of Church, Garden, and Academy Streets
  • Placement of no-parking signs on Northern Avenue at Church Street
  • An electronic “chirper” at the traffic light to alert blind pedestrians of safe-crossing times
  • Banning parking on Parsonage near Main Street and on the south side of Wall Street
  • Banning or limiting parking on Market Street near Lunn Terrace
  • Banning parking on part of Locust Ridge near Mountain Avenue to accommodate school buses

Falloon commented that the Locust Ridge-Mountain Avenue area fills with vehicles waiting for Haldane school students and that drivers often violate parking restrictions. “That whole neighborhood is abused every day,” he said.

Serradas also advocated a sticker system so that drivers living on streets near Main Street could park though non-residents could not. The Lower Main neighborhood uses stickers for residents’ cars. Then “we can move toward municipal parking meters, which will greatly increase the revenue for the village and simplify issuing tickets and compliance,” he stated. “The burden of the village should not be borne by the residents.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government