Marion residents, what would you be willing to pay for a transfer station sticker? Forty dollars, $50, or more? This was the question on the minds of the selectmen during the November 5, Marion Board of Selectmen meeting as they face the pressure of putting a price on the transfer station stickers before they go into effect on January 1, 2020.
The Benson Brook transfer station is owned and run by the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District. Just recently, the CMWRRDD decided to offer one transfer station sticker to the three towns in the district, but only more recently did the district discover that it was not permitted to do so. Now, the three towns must sell those CMWRRDD stickers at a cost that each town will itself determine. Marion must now impose its own price on the transfer station sticker and also figure out how much to charge for a separate Town of Marion privilege sticker for parking and beach access.
Bob Partridge, a Marion member of the CMWRRDD Board, joined the selectmen in the discussion and provided as much information as he could to help them wrap their heads around the matter. And as Marion negotiates its ‘Mexit’ from the CMW, the town hopes it can operate the Benson Brook transfer station on its own, but sticker fees will have to cover the operational costs.
According to the data Partridge presented, a vehicle count of the Marion-based transfer station revealed that the average number of vehicles entering the station is about 426 a week. That is, of course, the calculated average, although in January the number dips as low as 330 and as high as 650 mid-summer. But all member towns of the CMW district are allowed to use the station, not only Marion. Partridge said about 30 percent of those vehicles counted are registered in Marion, while roughly 70 percent were from Wareham.
That approximate average of 127 Marion vehicles per week (30 percent) is, basically, with a sticker that costs only $10. So if the sticker costs more, would Marion residents still use the transfer station?
The sticker fee would not necessarily be utilized to fund the 2020 operation of the transfer station, because the district will continue to be reimbursed by SEMASS and offered a $0-per-ton tipping fee until December 31, 2020. The fee Marion collects for 2020 stickers would fund the town’s endeavor to maintain the transfer station as its own and pay for the associated costs, such as equipment and employees to keep the station open at least a couple days a week.
But Town Administrator Jay McGrail and the board are unsure of the number of residents that would continue to buy the sticker at a higher rate compared to the $10 sticker.
“If we charge $40 for a sticker… and we sell 100 of them we know it’s going to be a lot harder for us to run the transfer station,” said McGrail.
Selectman Norm Hills liked the sound of a $40 transfer station sticker with an additional $10 town privilege sticker, which would be in line with surrounding towns’ transfer station sticker fees.
Still, Board of Selectmen Chairman Randy Parker asked, “Do we really need to charge $40 for that?”
It’s a good way to find out how many stickers the town would sell at a given price, Selectman John Waterman suggested, adding, “I think we need to find out what the demand is to use the trash station, and if it’s free then we’ll never find out… Because I think we’re testing the market and that’s a good starting point… and we’ll see how many of these transfer station stickers we sell for 50 bucks.”
Parker said he needs significantly more information before the board can agree on a price.
“I just feel a little guilty charging the residents 50 bucks for something we’ve been charging them $10 for,” said Parker.
Waterman suggested it would make the transition easier if the town charged only $50 now before possibly having to hike the price up to $150 in order to keep the transfer station operating for Marion residents. “And,” he said, “we find out if anyone is willing to pay it.” If they won’t pay $50, then clearly they won’t be willing to pay $150 the next year, he said.
The selectmen agreed they needed more time and information, but McGrail gently reminded them that the decision must be made by early December.
McGrail is now tasked with formulating an equation to estimate what the transfer station’s operating costs might be and to suggest an appropriate sticker fee.
Meanwhile, after Town Meeting voted in favor of a Mexit from the CMW district, the town has begun its negotiations with the district; however, if the district decides as a whole that it wants to dissolve its association, Marion would not be forced to continue in its efforts to leave.
According to Partridge, CMWRRDD board members are seriously considering a full dissolution of the district, save for the existence of a “skeleton” entity to continue to cover the costs of outstanding liabilities, such as one retiree’s pension and benefits.
“Right now, the ball is in the [CMWRRDD’s] court,” said Partridge. ”…But first, they need to vote on whether the district will remain a district.”
The CMWRRDD Board could vote on its fate as a district within the next month. Its next meeting is scheduled for November 20.
“They’re going to have to make a hard decision one way or another,” said McGrail.
The good news is that, should Marion leave the CMWRRDD, Covanta has agreed to a $77-per-ton tipping fee (with a 2.5 percent escalator each year) for solid waste disposal at SEMASS for a contract period of five years.
McGrail called it a “great deal,” and said no matter how high trash disposal costs could jump over time, Marion is locked-in. “Doing it now, I think it’s huge.”
McGrail said the CMWRRDD did not receive a bid from Covanta more beneficial than Marion’s and, in fact, Marion’s negotiations actually led to a better deal for the CMWRRDD, McGrail claimed.
In other business, the board approved awarding Methuen Construction for the $6,370,198 wastewater treatment plant and lagoon improvements contract.
The board approved the job description for the new position of assistant director of the Department of Public Works.
McGrail was given authorization to submit the preservation restriction for the Town House to the Massachusetts Historical Commission for review and approval.
McGrail will now begin the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to solicit bids for the sale of the Atlantis Drive building.
The Board of Assessors’ yearly tax rate classification hearing with the board was continued until November.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for November 19 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry