With some frustration, Westbrook’s city council has put a $250,000 curbside recycling program into next year’s budget, cutting out a self-supporting, drop-off recycling program added to the budget just four days before.

“I can’t face the status quo,” said Councilor Suzanne Joyce, who put the motion on the table to add the program. Joyce described the city’s current 6 percent recycling rate as “hideous.”

Councilor Dorothy Aube said she was having a hard time with the vote, relating a call from a gentleman on fixed income whose property taxes are expected to go up $800 after the recent property revaluation. Aube did, in the end, vote for the proposal.

The voluntary curbside recycling program would be funded by taxation, as opposed to a pay-per-bag system originally proposed by Mayor Bruce Chuluda. The council removed the mayor’s program at the June 7 Finance and Budget Committee meeting, replacing it with an enhanced drop-off recycling program.

The drop-off program was expected to increase recycling by using a single-bin system for all recyclables, making recycling easier because materials would not need to be separated. It was estimated it would increase Westbrook’s recycling rate from approximately 6.4 percent to 10 percent at little to no cost for the city. Any expenditures for the program were expected to be equalized with the reduction of trash disposal costs due to a decreased volume of trash. The council, in a split vote on Monday, removed the drop-off program and replaced it with the curbside recycling program.

It was estimated the curbside program would cost just under $250,000 if it began in the fall. Councilor Mike Foley said he could not support spending $250,000 to increase the city’s recycling rate 5 percentage points, from an expected 10 percent with a drop-off program to 15 percent with the voluntary curbside program. Foley said a curbside program could wait another year, noting the revaluations “looming” over the heads of city residents.

Foley said he “wholeheartedly” supports a strong recycling program, but did not want to tax the residents for that expenditure this coming year. The program is expected to add approximately 13 cents to next year’s tax rate.

Mike Miles, chairman of the Solid Waste and Recycling Committee that recommended a pay-per-bag program to the city council, said wholehearted support of the program without voting for it was indistinguishable from rejection.

In surrounding communities where a curbside program exists coupled with an incentive program – namely, pay-per-bag – recycling rates reach 30 percent, according to Miles. Because the Westbrook program as included in next year’s budget has no incentive program, the recycling rate is only expected to increase from about 6 percent to 15 percent.

“We can pretend that more education will lead to more recycling,” Miles said, but programs are generally not effective without the incentive.

“Pay-per-bag is the way to go, ladies and gentlemen,” said councilor John O’Hara, “but that doesn’t seem to do anything but run into a headwall and die.”

Mayor Bruce Chuluda said he would not be able to support a curbside recycling program without a pay-per-bag program.

In addition to the residential recycling program, next year’s budget includes money for the municipal offices to begin their own recycling program. The city is also working with Westbrook Housing to begin recycling in its administrative offices, and the council has set aside money to assist the school department with a recycling program at administrative and school buildings.

The city council will be meeting again on Monday for a second reading of the budget, where councilors will again have a chance to make a change to the recycling program.

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