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Apr 22, 2009 12:17 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board considers privatizing waste management

Apr 22, 2009 12:17 PM

With only 11 percent of Southampton residents utilizing the four transfer stations in town and with the Department of Waste Management funded only through June, town officials are looking into privatizing the department.

Representatives from the consulting firm Cashin Associates, hired by the town to complete a waste management study, met with the Town Board on Tuesday to discuss the potential change. But Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who said privatizing the department was worth exploring, felt the discussion was premature as the department’s year-end numbers for 2008 have not been provided to the board. In fact, Environmental Facilities Manager Paul DiMaria, who manages the stations, hadn’t seen the numbers either.

Regardless, if the town wants to keep the department running through the end of the year then it will have to find about $700,000 to do so, Mr. Nuzzi said. The town would likely tap into its tax stabilization fund for that money.

In order to make an informed decision on the fate of the department, Mr. Nuzzi—who is also the liaison to the department—said he needed to be able to compare the revenue generated by the department with its expenses. If those numbers reflect that the department is at least breaking even, then Mr. Nuzzi said increasing taxes to fund a private waste management entity may not be the right move.

“I’ve asked repeatedly for these numbers,” a frustrated Mr. Nuzzi said Tuesday. “All of this is great to explore, but we need to know the operational expenses in relation to the revenues before we make any decisions.”

“Under no administration has the town ever received unaudited figures before May,” Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said. “We’ll have those numbers in a week. We’ll have a preliminary view into 2008 to know whether the revenues covered the costs.”

“My concern is we’re meeting without all the facts,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “That makes it very difficult to move forward with a change in the department.”

According to Ms. Kabot, it costs the town $3.5 million annually to fund waste management operations and the sale of town trash bags—which self-haulers must purchase in order to dump their garbage at the stations—is not enough to make ends meet.

But as Mr. Nuzzi pointed out, about $1 million goes to maintaining the capped landfills at the North Sea station. Whether the town privatizes the department or not, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation mandates that the town ensure the safety of those enclosed landfill cells.

Mr. Nuzzi also pointed out that what’s been reported to be a $2 million deficit in the fund may not be accurate. Some $400,000 is owed to Waste Management from other departments for trash collections. Basically, Waste Management was carrying the trash pickup costs for other departments, but was not reimbursed by those departments.

Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who agreed with Mr. Nuzzi that the board needed better data before deciding on privatization, said Cashin’s study was basically a report on the state of Waste Management, but did not provide the necessary cost-benefit analysis between the status quo and privatizing.

“We were shown how the department works,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “But we weren’t given anything to really consider.” Mr. Throne-Holst added the study could have been done internally by the comptroller’s office.

The four transfer stations located in the township are in Westhampton, Hampton Bays, North Sea and Sag Harbor. According to Alfred Angiola of Cashin, the 11 percent of residents using the facilities equates to 6,800 people or 2,775 households. The remaining 89 percent of town residents use private sanitation companies to dispose of their trash, Mr. Angiola said.

The minority of residents who use the transfer stations must purchase town bags in order to dispose of their garbage at the facilities.

According to Cashin, the stations in Hampton Bays and North Sea would be the most logical stations to turn over to private industry as they are the most established with the infrastructure to accommodate a private vendor. As Ms. Kabot pointed out, switching to a private company would mean increased activity at the stations resulting in significant impacts on the neighborhoods surrounding the facilities.

Currently, the four transfer stations handle only trash from residents who self-haul. Private sanitation companies dispose of the trash they collect out of town, according to Mr. Angiola. That would change if the department is privatized.

“There are also union concerns due to labor costs,” Ms. Kabot said. If a private company took over waste management operations, then that company would likely hire its own employees.

Speaking to the small percentage of residents who cart their trash to the transfer stations, Superintendent of Highways Bill Masterson said: “If this was a business and only 11 percent of the people were using the service, then you would have to ask if the town should be in the garbage business?”

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Thank you Sally Pope for saving $10,000 of our tax money and eliminating another consultant from coming in to do the work of the assessors office.
By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Apr 22, 09 5:26 PM
Why are we fixing up the transfer stations only to privatize? Also why does the town keep using Cashin for all it's assesments? How much money has been wasted on their studies? Isn't it a conflict of interest that a former Cashin Employee is running the transfer station for the town? Hasn't Cashin made previous studies on the transfer stations saying that privatization wasn't feasable but now all of a sudden it is? Sooo, is Cashin going to be the privatized company to take over the transfer ...more
By NorthSeaNative (34), Southampton on Apr 24, 09 8:43 PM