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Smithtown drops garbage late fees to aid businesses

Tommy Ciancarelli of Winters Brothers loads the truck

Tommy Ciancarelli of Winters Brothers loads the truck in a parking lot of an office building in Smithtown. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Smithtown officials on Tuesday suspended nonresidential garbage late fees, a step town officials hoped would bring modest relief to up to 2,000 account holders, most of them small businesses. 

“We need to do our part in helping our local businesses in any way we can” at a time when many have been ordered to close or curtail operations because of the coronavirus outbreak, said Mike Engelmann, the town’s solid waste coordinator. “We don’t have the ability to dispense grants” or provide other benefits directly to them, he said. 

The town council measure, approved by a 3-0 vote Tuesday, suspended for April and May the 18% interest rate assessed on unpaid accounts, along with the $25 late fee. Nonresidential garbage fees range from $30 to thousands of dollars per month.

“Town government is very limited in the impact it can have on a business district when it comes to cost-saving measures,” said Tony Tanzi, Kings Park Chamber of Commerce president and chairman of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. But for a struggling business owner, the move could provide some room to maneuver: “You can pay your electric bill this month and you don’t have to worry about garbage … Every little bit is going to help these businesses.” 

Garbage fees are a significant source of municipal revenue and can, along with collection volume, provide broad insight into economic activity in the town.

Comptroller Donald Musgnug said last month that he expected fees — initially projected to bring $7 million into town coffers in 2020 — could be substantially lower at least into the summer months. 

About 60 to 100 nonresidential garbage accounts are typically delinquent at any given time, Engelmann said; that number did not move in March, and April numbers were not yet available, he said. 

Nonresidential garbage volume, however, has dropped by hundreds of tons since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered nonessential businesses to shut March 22, with some businesses closing accounts — or, more typically — reducing the volume or frequency of pickup. 

Year over year nonresidential garbage volume was down 12% in the third week of March, 25% the fourth week, and 35% for the first week of April, Engelmann said.

Residential pickup for the same weeks increased 14%, 24% and 14%, respectively, as more Smithtown residents cook and work at home and order more goods for delivery rather than shopping in person. 

Similar shifts appear to be taking place nationally and across Long Island, said David Biderman, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, an industry group, who estimated the volume of residential garbage was up 10% to 30% in areas with mandatory stay-at home orders.

Residential refuse volume in Brookhaven was up about 27% in March over last year, according to statistics provided by officials there. 

Will Flower, spokesman for Winters Brothers, a major Long Island carter that hauls commercial and residential garbage in Smithtown, said overall garbage volumes hadn’t changed dramatically, with each Long Islander continuing to produce the historical average of about 4.5 pounds of waste per day.

But residential volumes were up by about 10% over the same period last year, with 3% to 5% decrease on the commercial side, he said. 

Company records suggest two additional insights, he said. Roll-off business jumped, suggesting that many residents cooped up at home were taking the opportunity to do major cleanup of garages and basements. And the company’s East End business, which swells each May along with the Hamptons summer population, has started to grow about two months ahead of schedule, corroborating the suspicions of local officials that metropolitan New York area residents were traveling east for more spacious quarantine quarters.

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