The mayors of six municipalities in Albania visited with officials from several West Hartford departments on Sept. 19 as part of a peer learning exchange.
By Ronni Newton
As part of a weeklong tour of the United States, six mayors from Albania were in town on Sept. 19, meeting with representatives from West Hartford Public Schools and the Department of Public Works, as well as with Town Manager Rick Ledwith and Mayor Shari Cantor as they engaged in a peer learning exchange.
Albania has recently undergone a territorial reorganization, with a significant reduction in the number of separate municipalities from 384 to 61, which has had a major impact on the waste management sector as well as other governmental operations.
The Albanian delegation included six mayors – five of whom were women – from municipalities of various sizes, ranging from the mayor of a town with 32,000 residents to the mayor of the country’s second-largest city, Durres, which has about 330,000 residents. Luan Ceka, a native of Albania who is the CDBG coordinator for West Hartford’s Department of Social Services, accompanied the group, providing translation as well as context when needed.
Public Works Director John Phillips walked the mayors through an outline of how his department operates, explaining that the town outsources its trash and recycling collection to a contractor through a longterm agreement, an arrangement that works well and provides the advantage of economies of scale and the contractor’s ability to be more nimble when changes are needed.
He explained the drivers in his budget – like rising tip fees and increased transportation costs – and the challenges being faced by the state and region with fewer facilities to dispose of waste.
“In Connecticut, we’re trying to reinvent and change behaviors for a new model of waste management,” Phillips said, touching on programs to reduce waste such as separating out food scraps in the schools as well as the new pilot program in the Morley neighborhood.
Emiriana Sako, the mayor of the City of Durres, asked about commercial waste – which is West Hartford is not the responsibility of the town. In Albania, it’s traditional to include those services as part of the town budget and because her city is a tourist destination, during the summer the trash from hotels and other hospitality businesses adds greatly to the town’s burden. They have started considering the possibility of a tiered tax structure, or requiring businesses to take on their own waste management, to lessen the burden on taxpayers.
Other questions asked what’s better – landfills vs. incinerators – and Phillips said, “Neither is great but incinerators at least create some energy.” They were also interested in how the town monitors trash to ensure hazardous waste or other illegal items are not being thrown into the waste stream (trucks have cameras, and fines can be issued), and what the rough cost per household is for waste services in West Hartford ($300, said Phillips).
West Hartford’s recycling coordinator, Katherine Bruns, was also part of the presentation and shared information about her role in diverting more materials from the waste stream. The mayor of one of the Albanian towns said they are just beginning to collect paper and plastic separately, but process it themselves and sell the end product.
The mayors also toured the Public Works campus.
The mayors began their morning with a discussion of early childhood education, meeting with West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Paul Vicinus, Assistant Superintendent Anne McKernan, Director of Elementary Education Kerry Jones, and Department Supervisor of Early Childhood Education Irene Garneau. The group also traveled to Charter Oak International Academy for a visit to the Pre-K classes.
In Albania, preschool education is part of the public schools, and the discussion in West Hartford included curriculum, management, and financing.
The delegation ended their day in West Hartford at Zohara, where they had lunch with West Hartford’s mayor and town manager, and enjoyed meeting owners Dorjan and Mira Puka, who are both originally from Albania. The discussion focused on economic development strategies, promotion, and innovative financing.
“It was an honor to meet the Albanian delegation of mayors today,” Cantor told We-Ha.com following the lunch. “It was such a pleasure to talk to interested, smart and engaged leaders that are working hard to serve their communities. I mentioned how inspiring it was to meet five female mayors out of the six we met. Interestingly I was told that there are a majority of women mayors in the country,” she said.
“And it was so wonderful to share a special meal at Zohara with two of my favorite people – Albanian-American business owners Dorjan and Mira,” Cantor added.
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