What’s stinky, inside everyone’s house and able to draw more people than ever — not to mention the police — to a Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Community Association meeting?
An effort nearly three years in the making to bring municipal trash pickup to the three hamlets came to a head on Monday night as close to 100 people — most opposed to the idea — flooded the civic association’s monthly meeting. Many of the attendees hoped to become members of the organization, which was formed in the late 1990s and has advocated on behalf of the economically distressed hamlets since. But tempers boiled over when those residents were told that their applications to join the group had yet to be processed, essentially making them all guests at the meeting without much of a voice. Or, more important, a vote.
“All these applications have come in in the last few days and we haven’t gotten to them yet,” said FRNCA vice president Steve Schreiber.
Depending on which side was doing the talking, somewhere between 30 and 60 applications had been submitted, though none had been fully vetted by Monday’s meeting which, per the civic association’s bylaws, was the meeting to elect the organization’s leaders. Over calls to hold off electing officials until next month — when the new members could vote — the actual FRNCA members present — about a dozen — cast their votes on Monday night, choosing to keep the same board as last year.
Flanders resident Frank Fisher, owner of Go Green Sanitation, accused the board of intentionally not processing the applications. Mr. Schreiber said the organization doesn’t want people “trying to dictate our agenda.”
“I’d like you to know that this is a membership meeting,” FRNCA president Vince Taldone told the crowd. “You’re all here as guests. When you are members, you’ll be permitted to argue with us as long as you like. But you’re not tonight, so if you don’t settle down, we will have you evicted from the meeting.”
While nobody came close to being dragged out of the meeting, police were in fact called to ensure tempers stayed relatively cool.
After years of prodding from FRNCA, seeking to reduce illegal dumping in the area, last summer the town agreed to seek bids to provide curbside collection for a garbage district comprising all residential properties in the three hamlets. The town received eight bids, the lowest of which came in at about $25 per month, or $300 per year per household, officials said.
However, opposition to the idea of municipal trash pickup has been heating up in recent weeks. A Facebook group, “Flanders Homeowners Against Town Garbage Pickup,” has gained 200 members. Civic president Taldone has accused Go Green’s Mr. Fisher of stacking recent public meetings to create the illusion of overwhelming opposition to the district — a charge both Mr. Fisher and other local residents have denied.
For the district to become reality, a vote would have to be held among the approximately 2,131 residential property owners within the proposed district, which has the same boundaries at the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance corps.
Only owners of residential property could vote in the referendum, which would be different from a traditional vote, for which voting is open to all registered voters.
Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray said owners of multiple properties could vote more than once.
The proposed district would provide two days per week of regular garbage pickup from up to three 32-gallon containers; one day per week of single stream recyclable pickup; one day per week pickup of bulk items; and 10 days per year of curbside yard waste pickup, according to Christine Fetten, Southampton’s director of municipal works. The town would sell the recyclables collected by the district to Brookhaven Town’s recycling facility, and the proceeds would go back into the district.
The Town Board has not set a date for the vote but has tentatively scheduled a May 15 public meeting on the issue, according to Councilman Brad Bender, a former FRNCA president.
Mr. Taldone said another reason FRNCA suggested a garbage district was that costs in garbage districts in neighboring Riverhead and Brookhaven towns have gone down.
He asked audience members what they paid per month for garbage pickup and got answers of $35, $36, $44, $47 and $50. Mr. Taldone said the lowest private carting price he’s heard was $29 per month. And according to Mr. Bender, the town received a bid of about $25 per month for the contract, though that has yet to be officially approved by the town.
A cheaper option does exist for area residents — self-hauling, not that it is frequently used. Mr. Taldone acknowledged that manually taking garbage to the town’s transfer station is the cheapest method, though Ms. Fetten said that only 15 percent of the waste in Southampton Town comes from self-haulers. The rest comes from private garbage carters that contract with residents.
Southampton Town allows people to dispose of unrecyclable trash at the transfer stations so long as the garbage is in special town bags that sell for $14.50 for five large bags and $7.50 for five small bags. Self-haulers can dispose of recyclables for free at the town transfer stations.
For those who currently do bring their trash to the town dump, however, the proposed garbage district — and the higher costs that come along with it — “comes down to new taxes,” said Therese McGuiness of Flanders.
Mattituck Sanitation owner Jon Divello questioned the bid the town received for $25, saying that when the town rebids the contract, all the “dumb garbage guys” will have gone out of business, and the new bids will come in much higher.
The proposed contract would be for one year, with an option for two more, Mr. Bender said. The $25 per month could increase by up to 5 percent for each of the next two years, but only if both sides agree, he said.
Mr. Divello said his company charges $36 a month for a single family residence.
A woman in the audience who didn’t identify herself said she pays $35 per month and pays extra for pickup of bulk items or refrigerators.
“For me, it’s better,” she said of the proposed garbage district. “At least I get three pickups. I get one now and I still have to pay additional [for large items].”
Mr. Taldone stressed that the town, not FRNCA, will ultimately decide the fate of the garbage district.
“We’ve done our job by investigating this,” he said. “It’s the democratic process. It’s up to you to decide.”
Captions: Left: Dumped garbage on Old Quogue Road in Riverside this week. Right: Frank Fisher, owner of Go Green Sanitation, was one of close to 100 people who showed up to Monday night’s Flanders, Riverside, Northampton Community Association meeting in opposition to a municipal garbage pickup proposal.