Next year Emmaus residents will pay $6 on their refuse bills for the borough composing operation, whether or not they ever use it.
Commercial operators will see the annual fee they pay to use the compost site double, from $50 to $100.
On Monday night, borough council voted 4-2 to authorize the $6 fee. Council members Wesley Barrett and Nathan Brown voted no.
Later explaining his vote, Brown said all residents are being charged the additional $6 but not all of them use the site. “I don’t think it’s fair to be paying for somebody else to be using it.”
Barrett said more research about that fee should have been done before council voted.
With the new composting fee, annual refuse bills, paid by more than 5,000 borough households, will increase from $306 to $312.
The motion to double the fee for commercial operators passed 5-1, with Brown again voting no. He later said there was not enough information about the haulers and it was a 100 percent increase. “Where did we get that number and do any other sites charge that fee?”
Jeffrey Shubzda, who chairs council’s health, sanitation and conservation committee that recommended both increases, said Emmaus pays $84,377 a year to run its composting site. He said the increases will not be money makers for the borough.
Council members said the new $6 fee will generate an estimated $25,000.
They guessed fewer than 20 commercial operators use the compost site, so that change will create less than $1,000 in additional revenue.
Shubzda’s committee initially considered a $10 fee for residents but decided that was too much. Said committee member Brian Holtzhafer: "I think it's a $20 value at least, but do we want to do that to the residents right off the bat?" The committee also decided not to charge a "per load" fee, because it would have to pay an employee just to collect money at the compost site.
Council member Michael Waddell questioned how many Emmaus residents actually use the site. Holtzhafer said Emmaus public works director Jeff Clapper believes 75-80 percent use it.
Shubzda said too many people who don’t live in Emmaus are dropping off yard waste at the site, although they aren’t supposed to do that. Council members hope to resolve that problem by issuing all residents stickers for their vehicles or cards that they will present at the site.
Barrett suggested the borough consider an electronic system that uses swipe cards to allow residents on the site.
Holtzhafer said the commercial fee could have been much higher than $100, “but we have to do our research to know realistically how many commercial haulers are using it, how many loads are they bringing and what is a fair amount.” He would prefer to charge for each load commercial operators take to the compost center, “even if it’s $10 a load.”
While a limited number of commercial haulers operate in the borough, Holtzhafer said they take many loads to the site. He said Clapper suspects those commercial haulers may be “abusing” the site.
Borough resident Michael Aldinger complained to council that a borough employee has been following him through Emmaus for the last couple of days as he took leaves, brush and branches to the compost center in his pick-up truck.
He said he’s "voluntarily" been helping elderly borough residents for free since Hurricane Sandy because some of them can’t get their yard waste to the compost center.
Borough manager Shane Pepe said Clapper has been following Aldinger.
Aldinger said Clapper told him he needs a business license or must bring residents with him to the site. Aldinger said he does not own a business.
“I volunteer my time, I do not charge anybody,” he said.
But when questioned by Pepe, Aldinger said he tells people: “You give me whatever you want.” He acknowledged he has accepted “maybe $20-30 for gas” but added some elderly folks can’t afford to give him anything.
Pepe said Aldinger needs a permit because he is accepting payments.
Holtzhafer offered to pay for a permit if Aldinger is volunteering his time to take people’s yard waste to the compost center.
“I don’t want you to not help people because we’re having a conflict,” said Holtzhafer.
Also during Monday’s meeting, council unanimously voted to initiate what may be a long and expensive legal action to have house at 402 Broad St. repaired or condemned so it can be torn down.
“The building has become more than just an eyesore,” said Pepe. “Slate is falling off the roof, water is running inside the building, part of the front porch is falling apart. It is turning into a legitimate safety hazard for the community. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines probably way too long. We need to start moving forward.”
Pepe, who later said he did not have the names of the owners of the property at the corner of 4th and Broad streets, told council they are not going to fix it up. “We’ve been in court with these people. We have a file three or four inches thick on this property. They’ve been fined over and over again.”