A state agency has rejected the city's $500,000 grant application, meaning the notion of distributing garbage bins as large as 95 gallons to residents is dead.
The city's garbage committee wasn't sure what its next step would be Tuesday, but there was much discussion of a pay-as-you-throw program that members hoped would inspire more recycling.
A letter last week from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority announced the rejection after a selection process that the letter called "quite competitive and rigorous."
"We lost our meal ticket for the carts, and now we're scrambling," said Dawn M. Timm, Niagara County environmental science coordinator.
She said she was contacted by WasteZero, a company that sells special garbage bags the city could sell at a price high enough to pay for trash collection and disposal.
Garbage crews, whether city or private, would be told not to pick up any trash that wasn't in the official bags.
Michael E. Hoffman, city superintendent of highways and parks, expressed a lack of confidence in residents' going along with such a program.
"The night before garbage day, they'll go into Outwater Park or dump it down the hill or in a Dumpster so they don't have to spend an extra dollar," Hoffman said.
"So you put on a big, fat fine," Timm replied.
"We have a big, fat fine on Glenwood Avenue," Hoffman said, referring to the city's traditional spot for illegal dumping. "We have a $1,000 dumping fine. We've never caught anyone yet."
"I don't think anyone is comfortable with change, especially not in a service you're paying for," Timm said. "People scream for efficiency in any government operation. This is efficient."
"Pay-as-you-throw makes it more equitable for the taxpayer," said Common Council President Richelle J. Pasceri, R-1st Ward. "A bag is even cheaper for people who don't throw away a lot."
Timm said a 35-gallon bag might sell for $2.50, a smaller bag for $1.50 to $1.75. People could buy as many as they wanted.
She said that there are other grant sources to pay for recycling bins. Her hope, she said, was that a pay-as-you-throw system would get people to recycle, since the city wouldn't charge for that side of the program.
"You have to have a program that's enforceable, workable and functional," Timm said. "Pay-as-you-throw works. Over 400 communities in New York do it."
Hoffman said the other alternative would be a user-fee system such as the one in the Town of Lockport. "You need to go to a paid service at the very least so we can charge the nonprofits," he said.
Pasceri said that there is heavy political pressure to avoid having a new garbage program lead to increased taxes, or causing the sum of the tax and the new user fee to be more than the tax is now.
She said she was sure the Council would not agree to spend or borrow $500,000 for totes, although Hoffman said they would be more effective than bags at preventing the spread of vermin and keeping trash from becoming waterlogged and more expensive to dispose of.
Timm said she will gather data from about 10 pay-as-you-throw communities and present it to the committee April 13.