A new drive-on scale installed at the Belfast transfer station promises to make the cost of dumping construction debris fair. City officials are also banking on it bringing in more money.

“We have not been collecting enough money to get rid of demolition [debris]. Period,” said City Manager Joe Slocum, speaking on Dec. 19.

The problem has been that the city was relying on sight estimates. Figuring out how much a truck loaded with sheetrock, shingles, lumber or a mix of debris meant either making an educated guess or, in the case of larger trucks, sending the vehicles downtown to the drive-on scale at Consumers Fuels building. On Saturdays when the fuel dealer is closed, this wasn’t an option.

“We just threw a price tag at it,” said Steve Roberts, lead attendant at the transfer station. Roberts is quick with a joke, but added that he has felt fairly confident with his estimates, which have been informed by lots of practice.

He also acknowledged the potential pitfalls. For instance, a truck loaded with shingles, drywall, cinder blocks and other debris might have heavier items on the bottom obscured by a layer of lighter materials.

At the recommendation of City Manager Joe Slocum, the City Council in September approved spending $74,000 to buy and install the new scale, bypassing the normal bidding process to get it in the ground before winter.

The new scale went online Tuesday, Nov. 22 and is capable of taking loads up to 60 tons. A remote controller in the office allows workers to take a reading without abandoning the service window.

Slocum said the city has been collecting around $20,000 less than the cost of offloading the construction debris to Penobscot Energy Recovery Company. Getting accurate weight measurements could be enough to make up that difference. Then again, the estimates from transfer station workers may have been right all along — other factors, including the weight of rain water absorbed by materials in the uncovered dumpsters, have been raised as possibly contributing to the weight discrepancy.

“What we have to determine is if the rate we’re charging will generate enough to cover the cost of disposal,” Slocum said. “And it either will or it won’t.”

Slocum added that the city is taking another look at single-stream recycling, in which a wider variety of recyclables could be accepted and residents would not have to sort them by type.

In single-stream recycling, all recyclable materials are collected in one dumpster and sorted at a remote facility. The city looked at single-stream once before and found the costs of transporting recyclables to sorting facilities, the closest of which are in southern Maine and Massachusetts, were too high.