SANFORD–Taped to the front door of The Depot convenience store on Main Street, a handwritten sign notes that the market is now selling the bags that residents are required to purchase for the town’s new pay-as-you-throw trash disposal program. Other, similar signs have also cropped up at many stores around Sanford, which began selling the bags July 2, in anticipation of the program’s start next week.
“The early-getters, the ones who are ahead of the curve, have already been in,” said Phil LeClair, who works at The Depot.
Beginning on July 12, Sanford residents and businesses will be required to dispose of all trash in special trash bags available for sale at most markets around town, including Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets and Rite Aid Pharmacy, as well as at hardware stores and many of the smaller, neighborhood markets.
The revenue generated from the sale of the bags – almost $1 million in the first year – is being used to offset taxes in the budget, and proponents believe the program will also help increase Sanford’s recycling rate. But opponents, who had the issue placed as a referendum on the November ballot, say residents will just end up paying more for trash disposal. If the program is repealed in November, the Town Council will likely have to cut spending by around $500,000 to make up for the lack of revenue from bag sales.
So far, merchants say customers have had mixed reactions about having to purchase the special trash bags.
“It’s been about half and half,” said Steve Shaw of Shaw’s Ace Hardware on Main Street. “Half the people like it, and half the people don’t.”
However, down the road at Jerry’s Market, where bags are available for sale behind the counter, customer reactions leaned toward a more negative consensus.
“Not a single person is pleased they have to buy the bags,” said Jen McQueen, who works at Jerry’s Market. She said that the store had sold about 15 rolls of each bag size by early Friday afternoon.
The purple bags are available in two sizes, and stores sell the bags for the same price. A roll of 10 of the 15-gallon bags and a roll of 8 of the 33-gallon bags both sell for $10.
“They make it simple because it’s $10 a roll, no matter what size bag,” said Shaw. Stores buy the bags for the same cost as their customers do, he added, which means there is no profit in selling them, and there is no sales tax added to the price of the bags.
Shaw said that the two sizes are designed to fit in either a standard kitchen trash container, which will hold the 15-gallon bags, or a standard, curbside trash barrel that will fit the 33-gallon bags. However, he pointed out, in order to be picked up, bags should not be placed in containers but left out in the open on the curb.
Shaw said that not only were customers buying bags on the first day, but people had been asking about them long before they went on sale, in order to make sure their trash would be taken during the program’s first week. “We just got ours yesterday and a few sold already, and we had a lot of requests prior to that,” he said.
“There have been a lot of people asking about them,” said Christi Wilson, who also works at Jerry’s Market. She said that customers began asking about when bags would be on sale about a month ago.
Amy Proto, who works at the 7-11 on Main Street, said some customers had been anxious about when the bags would start selling. She described a customer who was certain that the town would not pick up her trash although the program does not officially begin until July 12.
“People are in a panic,” she said.
At Hannaford, a sign was erected to answer the questions of customers inquiring about when the bags would go on sale. The supermarket has them in stock and available for sale, though its staff would not comment on how many have been sold so far because of company policy not allowing its employees to speak to members of the press.
With the sale of the bags, the town of Sanford expects to make $979,000 during the first year of the new PAYT trash disposal program, and had included the bag sales in its estimated revenue for the year’s budget. However, voters could repeal the program in the fall referendum, which would leave a budget shortfall if people were no longer required to buy the bags for their trash disposal.
To address this possible loss in revenue, Judy Gibbs, a town meeting member, made a motion at the June 2 town meeting to reduce the estimated revenue line by $487,000. Town meeting members defeated the motion, and at that time, Town Manager Mark Green said that if voters do repeal the PAYT program the Town Council would revisit the budget and decrease spending as necessary.