Bag tag fee hike could make trash more costly

HUDSON—The Columbia County Board of Supervisors has authorized the County Solid Waste Department to raise the minimum charge for disposing of bags of garbage at its transfer stations from $1 a bag to $3 a bag. The votes of a majority of supervisors approved the increase at the full board meeting October 12, but the change will not take effect until county officials work on accommodating those people who regularly use bags with the $1 charge.

The “pay-as-you-throw” charge does not include the cost of the bags, which are available from local stores. The tags are available from the county and must be purchased from the county and placed on each bag before the bag or bags are disposed of.

Currently the tags cost $1, $3, and $5: $1 for bags holding10 gallons or less; $3 for bags 13 to 30 gallons; and $5 for bags 33 to 55 gallons.  The county’s October 12 decision will eliminate the $1 tag. Bags now accepted with a $1 tag will have to have a $3 tag. Bags now accepted with $3 and $5 tags will remain acceptable with those tags.

While many county residents dispose of their trash at county transfer stations, some municipalities have contracts with companies that pick up garbage from residential buildings. In other places households, on their own, bring their garbage to transfer stations, reported Wendy Madsen, deputy director of Solid Waste on October 14.

From 1990 until September 2021, Ms. Madsen said, the county sold five sizes of garbage bags for use at a transfer station.  People would buy the bags, fill them with their household trash, bring them to the transfer stations and dispose of them there. This system lasted over 30 years, and people got used to it, said Jolene Race, county director of Solid Waste on October 24.

But in September 2021 the program changed. Now people intending to dispose of trash at transfer stations must buy both bags and tags. They are on their own to buy the bags at stores. They buy the tags in sheets from the county.  Other counties and places have also made this change, Ms. Race said.

Since the new program started, the county has been selling $1, $3 and $5 tags. But bags without tags and bags with a tag for a smaller size have been appearing at the transfer stations.  This causes the Solid Waste Department to lose money.

“We’re trying not to place blame on anyone, resident or attendant,” Ms. Race said.  People are still getting used to the transition from buying bags from the county to buying bags from the store and tags from the county.  “We’re in the adjustment period. We’re trying to transition to a new program the best we can” and keep the transfer stations open while operating economically.

At the October 12 Board of Supervisors meeting during the discussion of whether to eliminate the $1 tag, Supervisor Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant) said, “Solid waste gets funded with a lot of tax dollars and people complain.” He added that at budget meetings over the years, people spoke of the need to increase solid waste fees, “and we kept putting it off, because we didn’t want to impact our residents….We need to increase the fees or offset them with taxes.”

But Supervisor Brenda Adams (D-Canaan) said the change “will have little or no impact. It’s symbolic.”

Supervisor Jeanne Mettler (D-Copake) said the problem is that some people are “throwing in big garbage bags with a $1-tag or no tag,” while the measure penalizes people who generate only a small-bag amount of waste each week.

The measure passed but not unanimously. Of the 23 supervisors, 10 voted for the measure, seven voted against it, and six abstained. Supervisors cast weighted votes. Officials will discuss how to avoid causing hardships for people who regularly use small garbage bags, such as senior citizens and singles. When that happens the new rates are supposed to take effect.

Matt Murell (R-Stockport), chairman of the Board of Supervisors, while voting for the measure, said, “This action doesn’t preclude…com[ing] up with better ideas. And I think we can still do that.”

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