Representatives of village governments, as well as residents, filled Town Hall at the continuation of the public hearing regarding the proposed revision of the "flow control" ordinance. "Flow control" relates to the plan put forth by the Town of North Hempstead (TONH) that would require all garbage collected within their jurisdiction to go through the transfer station in Port Washington. This would include the incorporated villages as well as the areas under the town's direct jurisdiction. The overwhelming majority of those who gave testimony were mayors and other representatives of the incorporated villages. For the most part, they were opposed to the legislation as it now stands.
Although a vote had been expected at this meeting, in light of the concerns and opposition, the board decided to continue the hearing at the next meeting on July 29. Supervisor Jon Kaiman said, "I don't know if there will be a vote then, but we will continue to dialogue."
Supervisor Jon Kaiman opened the meeting by giving background. (For more details and a description of earlier public hearings, see the Port Washington News June 26, 2008). He explained that TONH carries the designation of the solid waste management entity for the entire Town of North Hempstead. The Supreme Court had ruled against this concept in 1994, but in 2007 reversed that decision, once again allowing control. Kaiman said, "The town has researched the history of flow control, and we believe that the basis of flow control is local control at a level that allows economies of scale and greater efficiency. We believe that flow control would reduce costs and...provide environmental benefits." He went on to state that over the last couple of years the town has held a series of meetings with carters, school districts, and the village officials association. He said that they have established a committee consisting of village representatives and asked the committee to reconvene before the next town board meeting. Kaiman acknowledged that the members of the committee have expressed concerns about whether there would, in fact, be efficiencies, as well as fear that they would lose local control. As for the carters, he said, "Some people in the industry are for it, some are against it." Kaiman said that one of the major purposes of the new legislation is to "make sure that everybody is treated equally." He also went on to assure his constituents that the revenues received by the Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA) funds will never be used to finance town operations. He said, "All of our operations and agreements will be transparent and will be made public."
One of the major objections to the proposal was its mandatory nature. Mayor J. Leonard Samansky of the Village of Saddle Rock (Great Neck) asserted, "It is illegal for the town to interfere with the villages--they have no jurisdiction. This proposal strikes at the heart of home rule. We don't need a 'hammer' to come to the table. Let us continue with the negotiation." Other speakers echoed these sentiments, many labeling the proposal as a "monopoly." Mayor Jack Martins of Mineola said (and this thought, too, was repeated by others), "Why not form a consortium rather than just a committee?" Martins went on to propose that the revenues collected be shared with the consortium. A number of mayors and village officials, including Mayor Ernest Strada of Westbury (the committee chair) urged that the town give the villages an opportunity to "opt out" of the arrangement. Some of the mayors asked, "What's the rush? Let's continue the discussions before we vote on any legislation." A major concern of those who testified expressed fear that the town's tipping fees would be more expensive than those of other transfer stations. The villages at the southern part of the town worried that they would incur additional transportation costs to travel to Port Washington. Currently, Westbury and New Hyde Park are the only two of the incorporated villages not currently using the town's transfer station. Samansky said, "We will hold the Town responsible for any tax increases that result from this."
In response, Kaiman pointed out that if the villages could "opt out" that would impose a burden on those that participate, because the latter would bear the entire cost of the infrastructure. "We want a plan that is equitable for everyone," he said. Kaiman also pointed out that the plan would give the town authority to monitor environmental factors such as the illegal dumping of recyclables. "There are areas," he said, "where the recyclables 'somehow' get mixed up with the regular garbage." Kaiman said that he is looking to give the villages as much input as possible into decision making, but that current law precludes a village official from being a voting member of the SWMA, but added that he is looking into the possibility of changing the law. He denied that the primary purpose of the law is to bring more revenue into the town's coffers, and reiterated that the town has no intention of using the revenues for general operating expenses and that, indeed, it would be illegal to do so. He said, "We can't, we don't, and we won't." Kaiman again pointed out that he expected "economies of scale" and said, "The town has a responsibility to see that the flow control is handled in the most efficient and environmentally responsible way. It just doesn't make sense to negotiate 30 contracts." He added, "We are not rushing."
In response to a fear expressed by some Port Washington residents that this proposal would result in more trucks going through their community, Councilman Fred Pollack pointed out that all but two districts go through Port Washington now. "There will not be more trucks coming through," he said emphatically.
Although only one licensed carting company testified (from a special district), the Port Washington News has a copy of a memorandum dated June 25, 2008 from the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) addressed to all the elected village officials in the Town of North Hempstead expressing opposition to the plan and making essentially the same points as the village officials made during the hearing. The memo said, in part, "At risk is your ability to control both the cost and direction of your villages' waste and recycling program and system."
If a new law is passed, it will take effect in April 2010. It only relates to tipping fees and dumping, not to garbage collection. The villages would still enter into individual contracts for pickup.