NEW WINDSOR — A pilot pay-as-you-throw trash program slated to begin in New Windsor this fall is on hold.
“Over the last year and a half we’ve been in negotiations with the town of New Windsor, the entity going to go into a contract, partnership with us under this pilot program,” said Public Works Director Jeff Castonguay at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Thursday.
While the town has been aware of the program throughout the whole process, he said, they are still looking to negotiate further.
“And with the current market conditions with recycling, and costs that the county is incurring to run the pilot program, at this point we will request the project be placed on hold until the market has become better,” Castonguay said.
During the pilot phase of the Fair Trash Reduction, or FuTuRe, program, residents of New Windsor — the town that volunteered to participate — would pay for what they throw away in the trash, but not for what they recycle, with a system that treats trash disposal like metered utilities. Residents would purchase designated trash bags that hold up to 33 gallons with a 30-pound weight limit, and the cost of the bag would directly pay for its disposal.
But on Thursday, Castonguay and Dusty Hilbert, bureau chief of solid waste, said the town was concerned about complaints from residents who might not want to participate in the program.
“They thought of the negative reactions once they started the program,” Hilbert said. “They’d have more time invested in the enforcement of a pilot and dealing with the citizens’ concerns: people stopping in, people calling.
“They felt with their limited staff, being a relatively small staff, they’d have a lot more invested,” he said. “They wanted to see some of the [trash] bag revenue come to them to help cover the added costs.”
Hilbert said the town also wanted to be able to pull out of the pilot whenever they wanted within one month’s notice if it “started to go sour.”
Commissioners said they were confused about the last-minute change of heart.
“The town, they just realized people might call them if they have a trash problem?” Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, asked. “How much have we spent so far?”
Hilbert said the county has spent $20,000 so far on the program.
“We’ve been spending for consulting fees, attending council meetings, setting up the program, getting ready for advertisement and how this was going to be relayed out,” Castonguay said. “Getting volunteer staff together to get out and actually physically hand out [information] and have discussions with every resident of the area to get the best pilot program we could have.”
Howard asked if the initial feedback on the pilot program was positive. Castonguay said it was.
“They went into it eyes open, and now they want to change their mind and want extra money?” Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he was puzzled.
But Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, reminded his colleagues of the meeting they had earlier this month discussing the state of recycling in the country.
The program is well-intentioned, he said at the Aug. 2 commissioners meeting, but it will be hard to measure success in a time where recycling rates are on the decline. Since China stopped taking more than 40 percent of United States’ recyclables in 2016, demand for reusable products has gone down.
“I don't know what happened with the town,” Rothschild said on Thursday, “but will tell you my suspicions. These programs look pretty when you start talking about them, but once you start getting all close and dotting all the I’s and [crossing] the T’s, they start to get cumbersome.
“I guess as they got closer, they realized the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” he said, “and frankly it isn’t. The fact of the matter is the numbers are not good, and they probably looked at it and didn’t see a future in it.”
Commissioners agreed they wanted to hear what the town decided from the mayor and Town Council themselves.
“We want to retain a good relationship with our neighbors,” Castonguay said, “and they are feeling some stress about this even before it’s gotten out of the gate.”
“I think it’s worth hearing from the Town Council,” Wantz said. "And I think the ‘good neighbors’ goes both ways. … I’m disappointed in New Windsor.”
In a phone interview after the meeting, New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop said the entire situation was misrepresented at the meeting.
“The town did not ‘pull out’ of the pilot program,” he said. “It is my understanding that county staff made the decision to suspend the pilot program prior to today’s commissioner meeting. The Town Council had voted to move forward with the pilot program. We were working through several issues with the [Memorandum of Understanding] that needed resolution before we began the program.
“I'm very disappointed if the county staff did not explain the complete story to the commissioners,” he told the Times, “and I'm also very disappointed that not one of the commissioners has reached out to me to see what the remaining issues are. We are still willing to continue working with county staff to implement the pilot program, so long as it is in the best interest of the town and the citizens of New Windsor.”
The mayor said he invites county staff to attend the town’s upcoming Sept. 5 Town Council meeting to continue working together for a reasonable solution.