It’s a bold, new era for the Town of Marion in its governance of the Benson Brook Transfer Station, as the Board of Selectmen began voting on the logistics of the self-managed program during its November 17 meeting.
For the first time since the Carver-Marion-Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District (CMWRRDD) was established in 1973, Marion will be going it alone beginning January 1, 2021.
Administrative Assistant Donna Hemphill reported a $10 rate increase to be used primarily to operate and pay for disposal, bringing the fee to $50 for residents per vehicle ($40 for veterans and senior citizens). She is working out a plan for when stickers can be purchased, as the Town House is only open now by appointment.
Rates for 2021 must be established for non-residents as well as residents. The town is also negotiating a potential deal to allow Rochester residents to use the facility and is working on a proposed fee. Rochester Selectman Brad Morse reported back to his Board of Selectmen that he intended to meet on Wednesday with Marion representatives.
“There’s a lot of unknowns this year…. One of the benefits to running it ourselves is, if we need to adjust, we can,” said Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail.
Marion is leasing equipment from Waste Management and is committed to one year under the new arrangement with a plan to evaluate. The sticker program brought in $48,000 in 2020. The $10 increase is meant to offset the difference in operating under CMWRRDD management and personnel.
“We’re banking on the tonnage being low,” said McGrail, who was happy to announce that Marion residents would be allowed to bring yard waste two days per week on a year-round basis. McGrail hopes brush can be added to the facility’s list of acceptable items.
The selectmen voted to approve the new policy and Marion resident rates; the board will vote later on fees for Rochester residents.
In his Town Administrator’s report, McGrail stated that Marion’s recent change from gray (low-risk) status to red (high-risk) on the state’s COVID-19 map is not indicative of lackadaisical behavior by townspeople but a pure surge in cases. Marion is one of 15 municipalities added to the state’s red list.
“The uptick we see is not because we let our guard down, but because the virus is spreading pretty quickly,” said McGrail, noting the opportunity over the next few weeks to get out of the red with a decline in positive tests.
The recent emergence of a COVID-19 cluster at Sippican Healthcare Center accounts for the vast majority of cases. As of Tuesday, the parent company Whittier Health Network listed 61 cases of residents or staff that tested positive. McGrail said Marion has had 49 cases since November 1, 14 of which occurred outside the nursing home; the town had 30 cases over the prior eight months.
Internal changes over the last two weeks include moving all public meetings to a fully-remote format, once again closing the Music Hall to outside groups. Municipal buildings are only open to the public via appointment. McGrail said a list of phone numbers had been posted outside the Town House, and a phone call to the appropriate number can result in immediate service. “We are screening all customers for temperature and contact tracing information until we see a decline in our positive rate in Marion,” said McGrail.
Due to the surge, the Festival of Trees auction event planned for the Cushing Community Center has been canceled.
McGrail reported that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Clean Water Trust approved a change in Marion’s contract, allowing the town to take back-end money and allocate $1.2 million to allow a contractor to continue to remove sludge from the lagoon at the Benson Brook Transfer Station. McGrail estimates that the money will be used up in the second week of December, and the sludge may not be cleared by then. In that case, the project would be shut down and brought back to the Spring Town Meeting.
Marion is getting a better deal on trucking the sludge to Maine than it had been trucking it all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada.
“We’ll know more the second week of December when the $1.2 million’s gone,” said McGrail.
During a 4:15 pm public classification hearing with Assessor Pat DeCosta, the Board of Selectmen voted to approve a single tax rate as opposed to a split rate for residential and commercial property owners. “It doesn’t make sense to go with the split rate,” said Selectman John Waterman, citing 93 percent of property taxpayers are residential. “We’d like to encourage more businesses in town.”
Marion is giving the four restaurants in town that serve alcohol on their premises a break on their annual license fees, down from $1,400 to $1,025 based on a one-time, 25 percent reduction. The amount was calculated according to the months the establishments were closed due to COVID-19. “Obviously, it wouldn’t offset what they lost; it’s a gesture,” said McGrail, reporting agreement on the measure from Assistant Town Administrator and Finance Director Judy Mooney. The forfeiture in fees adds up to roughly $2,000, and the selectmen approved. Restaurants without alcohol licenses pay $60 per year.
Two applicants, Josh Lerman and Chris Horton, attended Tuesday’s Zoom with the Board of Selectmen and will revisit the selectmen on December 15 for formal interviews as potential successors to the aquaculture license previously held by Shea Doonan. If the interviews go well, the candidates will become the subject of a public hearing during a January meeting of the selectmen. The selectmen’s vote of approval would launch the applicant forward to seek approval from other Marion boards, including the Conservation Commission and the Marine Resources Commission, along with the state Division of Marine Fisheries. The final license is issued by the Board of Selectmen.
Waterman said Marion’s water bills are antiquated and, with a redesign like the electric bills with usage charted against last year, a new look would help impress upon residents the message that they are responsible for leaks. McGrail said he would look into the matter.
Citing the potential clearing of Park Street, Waterman reinforced his push to make the new emergency access from Route 6 into Sippican Elementary School the prescribed bus route as well.
On behalf of the town, the selectmen voted to accept a donation of $15,000 earmarked for the Park and Tree Committee to use for a “beautification project.”
“It’s a wonderful gift, and we’re thankful for their generosity,” said Waterman.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for December 15.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo