WINCHESTER - The Capital Planning Committee had a banner night during night three of Town Meeting, as members approved motions and articles left and right (more on that later this week) until they hit a roadblock in the form on Article 14, to support upgrades and improvements to the town’s Transfer Station.
It’s not that Town Meeting rejected the article - it’s almost guaranteed to pass - instead, Town Meeting needed to indefinitely postpone it when Town Meeting member Brian Vernaglia offered an amendment pertaining to how the town would pay for the repairs, improvements and upgrades. Town Meeting will take up the article again as the last piece of business during this fall session.
The original warrant article called for spending $6.5M on the project with $1M coming from Free Cash. However, Vernaglia offered an amendment, which Town Moderator Heather von Mering, after discussing with town counsel and others, found in order, to not use any Free Cash and instead borrow the entire $6.5M
Town Meeting couldn’t come to a decision that night, as both the Finance Committee and Select Board didn’t offer a recommendation on the amendment (both groups supported the original article as written). Both chairs, Megan Blackwell from the Finance Committee and Susan Verdicchio from the Select Board, said they needed more time to caucus with their respective boards and committees.
If the article receives approval, it would fix many of the Transfer Station issues by improving the Tipping Building and conveyor belt, upgrading the electrical system, demolishing the incinerator building, correcting pavement deficiencies, and moving the employee facilities away from the dog pound.
Lead sponsor of the article, Select Board member Michael Bettencourt, called these fixes and improvements necessary to keep the Transfer Station functioning for residents. He also mentioned other changes, such as the elimination of the SMART program (Jan. 1) and removing food waste from solid waste.
The Select Board decided last month to eliminate the SMART program as it stopped being cost-effective. It allowed residents to save money by recycling more; however, with recycling now more expensive, it made little sense to continue the program. DPW Director Jay Gill said, later, how the town could not only return to the program, but institute it town-wide once the town completes the Transfer Station project.
The project will also include some environmental remediation. Bettencourt said to expect permitting in the fall, bids in the winter and construction to begin next spring. It should remain operational during construction.
When asked if these changes would reduce the labor or operational costs at the station, Gill said both would remain the same. In fact, users will pay slightly more with an additional sticker fee of $22 (starting on Jan. 1, 2023) voted on by the Select Board back in September. They may also raise that $22 fee to $80 in 2024.
Town Meeting member Roger Wilson also asked about preventing railroad use at the station and while Bettencourt acknowledged his board didn’t have an official policy (they didn’t want to bind future boards), he said no one wanted to see that happen.
Overall, the Select Board member pointed out how the town doesn’t use the Transfer Station to its fullest capacity, noting the town leaves a lot of revenue potential on the table. He said his board would work with the Finance Committee in the future to remedy that situation.
The town also plans, according to Gill, to increase its composting by removing food waste from solid waste. This will also help reduce the town’s overall tonnage it sends to the incinerator.
Before Vernaglia made his amendment, he asked why the town doesn’t simply borrow the entire amount. Bettencourt said he didn’t want to overburden the stabilization funds. Jim Johnson, chair of the Capital Planning Committee, when asked for his recommendation, said he couldn’t support the amendment, saying his committee didn’t have the funds to pay for the entire project.
Should Vernaglia’s amendment fail, the town does have more than $13M (or 14 percent of its revenue) in Free Cash, well above the 6-10 percent policy the Select Board created some years ago.
After FinCom and the Select Board asked for more time to discuss the amendment, Town Meeting member John Miller made a motion to indefinitely postpone the article until the last order of business. It passed, 91-45.
If Town Meeting approves Vernaglia’s amendment, Verdicchio said the extra $1M would come from the operating budget or users’ pockets.