Letter: Eliminating recycling position a 'grave mistake'

To the Editor:

The town of Trumbull made a grave mistake last week when our elected leaders stepped back from their commitment to “zero waste” and eliminated the director of solid waste and recycling position from the Public Works Department. To fill the void, the Board of Finance voted to add $25,000 to the department’s budget to enable the promotion of our Town Engineer to Associate Director of Public Works and take on the additional responsibilities of recycling coordinator. Neither of these moves aligned with the Public Works Director’s testimony during his Board of Finance Budget Hearing.

The label of “recycling coordinator” is a misnomer for this role which includes managing the tri-town transfer station and its staff, managing the contracts with processors, establishing policy and regulations, reporting progress to the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, as well as community relations and education.  Coordinating the town's single stream program is but one bullet point in the position description. Attaining zero waste will require a comprehensive and coordinated effort with clear accountability.

Materials management is one of the few areas that our town can impact our non-tax revenues in a direct way by shifting material from our waste stream, which costs $66/ton to incinerate in a Bridgeport plant, to the materials commodity stream which currently pays $35/ton for us to deliver product to them.

Interestingly, Trumbull recently hired a Chief of Emergency Medical Services with a goal to increase revenue by responding to more EMS calls, and making the organization more financially independent. Why then wouldn’t the town also maintain a position responsible for increasing the amount of recyclable material we can sell on the open market, thereby generating revenue, which offsets the cost of disposing our waste? Although this comparison may seem incongruous to some, the ultimate goals are similar: Re-deploy our resources to generate more revenue for the town, while simultaneously increasing the health, safety and welfare of our residents. Win-win.

Putting the lost revenue aside, it is a great disappointment to see our town lack the courage of our convictions, deciding to eliminate a position a mere 10 months after having created it. One Board of Finance member referred to the role as a “failed experiment,” yet the Director of Public Works had presented a two-page long list of accomplishments and testified that the position was already self-funded. As a manager, I would be ecstatic with such results from a new hire in their first year.

Lastly, the individual that Town Hall is releasing on June 30, Robin Bennett, is uniquely qualified to fill the broad responsibilities of the position, being equally at home 1) meeting with hauler and processor representatives; 2) teaching children in our schools; and 3) working alongside her staff at the transfer station. I wish her luck in finding a position with a town that values her versatility; and I wish Trumbull Town Hall luck filling this critical role by adding duties to existing staff, regardless of how they change titles and increase compensation levels.

Scot Kerr