The future looks bleak for the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District, despite its efforts to dig itself out of the financial ditch it was left in by former executive director Ray Pickles. Now, the Town of Marion is looking to exit the CMWRRDD by means of a special town meeting article to authorize the town administrator to start the process of withdrawing from the agreement.
According to Town Administrator Jay McGrail, remaining in the district beyond the December 31, 2020 expiration of its deal with SEMASS would no longer serve the Town of Marion. As a result, McGrail has crafted an article for the October 21 Fall Special Town Meeting to authorize him to take the necessary actions of withdrawing Marion from the CMWRRDD.
“I believe – and the Board of Selectmen agrees – that this is what’s in the best interest of Marion,” McGrail said on September 23 during a phone follow-up with The Wanderer. “It’s clear to me that the district doesn’t meet the needs of the Town of Marion.”
Under the CMWRRDD agreement, a town wishing to withdraw must obtain permission by a majority town meeting vote to proceed with the withdrawal process and negotiate the terms of withdrawal. Later, after all parties negotiate those terms, the CMWRRDD will propose an amendment to its agreement allowing for Marion’s withdrawal. Marion would need a second town meeting vote to accept the amendment and the terms spelled out therein.
McGrail said that he informed the current executive director for the CMWRRDD, Jeffrey Osuch, via email earlier that same day and talked briefly with him about the situation.
“He wasn’t surprised,” McGrail said. The topic will be included on the agenda for the CMWRRDD’s next meeting on October 23, two days after the Special Town Meeting.
“The Town of Marion is in a much different situation than the other two towns,” said McGrail.
Marion offers its residents curbside recycling and trash collection, while Wareham and Carver residents must either use the transfer stations or contract their own private curbside trash hauler.
“If we have our own trash program set in place,” said McGrail, “it just doesn’t make sense for us to be a part of that district.”
The district was formed in 1973 under an agreement with the three towns, and in 1993 the CMWRRDD amended that agreement to enter into a waste management contract with SEMASS. SEMASS guaranteed the district a place to dispose of all its solid waste for 27 years without charge.
That contract with SEMASS expires on December 31, 2020. At that point, the district is responsible for finding another place to dispose of its solid waste.
As part of the contract with SEMASS, SEMASS has been reimbursing the district 100 percent of the cost to operate its transfer stations and landfill, and funding capital costs at 100 percent. In return, SEMASS was given the right to dispose of ash and unburned shredded waste in the district’s landfill at a $1-per-ton charge.
For years, the district remained financially solvent. Marion and the two other district towns were rarely charged an assessment of any significant amount for the disposal of their solid waste. That changed in 2017, when Pickles, who had been employed as the executive director since the district’s inception, issued the Town of Marion an assessment for $25,000, one for $89,000 to Wareham, one to Carver for $59,000, despite a total of $4,342,000 in payments from SEMASS between 2012 and 2017. The three towns had not been issued an assessment since 2012.
The overseeing board of the CMWRRDD then began to investigate the reason behind the soaring assessments and discovered a number of financial discrepancies in Pickles’ financial records – or lack thereof. Pickles was fired in February 2018 and a civil suit filed by the CMWRRDD against Pickles, his wife Diane Bondi-Pickles, and former Carver health agent Robert Tinkham, Jr., alleging the embezzlement of a cumulative $838,000 from the district between 2012 and 2017. An indictment by the Attorney General and criminal charges followed, accusing Pickles of stealing over $600,000 from the district.
Early in 2018, the CMWRRDD board was also perturbed to discover that Pickles had unilaterally rejected an offer from SEMASS to extend its contract with the district beyond 2020 without consulting the board. At this time, SEMASS is no longer interested in a contract with the district.
By Jean Perry