Pittsfield seniors toss questions to Tyer on tote-based trash pickup plan

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer addresses concerns at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on Thursday regarding the city's proposed tote-based trash and recycling pickup program.

PITTSFIELD — "I can't get that in my trunk," said 90-year-old Pat Mele, pointing to a nearby trash tote.

Cane in hand, the Cascade Street resident said that, on trash days, he tosses his rubbish in the trunk of his car, drives the length of his 700-foot driveway and leaves it at the curb.

"Them things are real heavy for seniors," he said.

Mayor Linda Tyer heard from concerned residents like Mele during a neighborhood meeting at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on Thursday. The meeting was about Tyer's proposed tote-based trash pickup program, which would relegate rubbish removal to 45-gallon and 96-gallon containers for trash and recycling, respectively.

After weeks of debate, the City Council declined to vote on the issue last month, voting instead to refer the proposed ordinance back to Tyer for revision. Tyer said Thursday she'll consider possible amendments after hearing from residents during the series of meetings taking place until Feb. 12.

Just as fixing an old, drafty window saves residents money, Tyer said, fixing the city's outdated solid waste pickup program is a modernization increasingly necessary in the face of rising disposal costs.

The goal, she said, is to simplify recycling by allowing residents to throw all recycling in one large tote and reduce trash.

"We're not making this harder, we're making this easier," Tyer told a crowd of about 60 people.

For residents like Mele, Tyer said the city will consider providing doorside pickup. She said officials would make such accommodations for residents with proven physical hardships.

Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo suggested that, for some qualifying residents, the city provide the utility-grade overflow bags instead of a household tote. That would allow residents like Mele to continue putting out the trash without the city contractor, Republic Service, resorting to doorside pickup.

"That's something to think about," Tyer said.

Fired-up seniors lobbed questions at Tyer throughout the session.

What happens when a tenant moves out and leaves a pile of trash behind?

Tyer said the tenant should pick up the tab for additional pickup costs. Overflow bags will cost $1 to $2 each, she said. The city is revising its plan for handling bulky waste like furniture, she said.

But is it fair that larger families could incur overflow costs simply because they have larger families?

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Tyer responded by asking if it's fair that households putting out one bag of trash a week currently subsidize those putting out 15 a week.

"We might have to change our habits a little bit," Tyer said. "This is a tried-and-true method of collection."

One man replied angrily: "I am not going to change."

People all over the region have programs like this, said Gloria Schilling, 80, of Pittsfield.

"What makes us so damn different?" she said. "We have to face it. The times are changing."

Voices from the crowd piped up to ask: What other local towns are doing trash this way?

Tyer listed off communities like Agawam, Chicopee and West Springfield.

They're not local, responded the voices.

Truth is, Tyer said, Pittsfield is the only town in the Berkshires still providing public pickup at no additional costs. Taking that away, she said, is not something she'd like to do.

"I don't want to have to make that decision," she said. "I don't think that's right for Pittsfield."

And so she's asking for assistance, she said, to spare the city budget $212,000 a year in disposal costs in the long term at an upfront cost of $1.6 million.

"All we can do is ask you to help us be better at this," she said.

There will be another session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Conte Community School, 200 West Union St.

The last session will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Herberg Middle School, 501 Pomeroy Ave.

Reach Amanda Drane at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.