Trash Trouble Mounts in Marion

            As Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson gave his report after a long March 19 evening of plowing through a packed agenda, he said a project he’s been working on “has been the most difficult project in my career.” He was speaking of the town’s need to find a solution to what has become its curbside trash collection dilemma. While the estimates have yet to be received for outsourcing trash collection, he said it could be as high as $600,000 per year.

            Dawson said that, given his impending retirement, it was important to leave the new town administrator with guidance in this matter. He asked and received approval to seek a quote from the firm Weston and Sampson, a company that has been assisting Dawson with solid waste disposal issues. As if that volume of work wasn’t enough, interim Department of Public Works Superintendent Jon Henry was asked to come forward and give the Board of Selectmen his bad trash news.

            Henry said that the last operational trash truck blew its engine recently and was now disabled, leaving the Town without a vehicle for trash collection service, forcing the DPW to rent a truck that is costing the town $1,200 a day. On the bright side, he said that a used replacement engine had been found and that all the repair work could be completed by town employees. While it’s not the ideal solution, this stopgap measure would grant the town a little time as it ponders its future in either continuing to offer its own curbside collection or outsourcing.

            The selectmen approved Henry’s request for $6,200 to repair the motor with money from the Reserve Fund and to seek final approval from the Finance Committee.

            Selectman John Waterman said half joking, “Now when I have a bad dream it’s about trash trucks.”

            Staying on the theme of all things DPW, Dawson said that the search for a new superintendent has produced two finalists who were not named.

            Dawson also reported that the RFP for a comprehensive wastewater management plan was released, as well as the RFP for trash outsourcing.

            Dawson also reviewed the 66 articles that now populate a draft of the Annual Town Meeting warrant. One of the big-ticket items is in Article 22 – $325,000 for a new ambulance. The selectmen agreed that this, like other capital improvement items, had been “kicked down the road” to the point that each year made it more expensive to get things accomplished. Waterman also referred to water main issues in this vein.

            Dawson said a Special Town Meeting would also take place on the evening of the Annual Town Meeting at 7:30 pm. That meeting will address the movement of $63,749 from free cash to the DPW for snow and ice removal, but mostly to offset costs associated with broken down trash trucks.

            Also during the meeting, the selectmen met with Bernard Lynch who has been spearheading their search for Dawson’s replacement. Lynch said that a field of 37 applications has come down to four. Of those, two had withdrawn, leaving two. Those candidates are Lisa Green, Whitman’s assistant town administrator, and Adam Wilson, Aquinnah’s town administrator.

            Lynch shared Green’s background that includes not only her current position, but also her former position as a selectman in Whitman, the chief procurement officer for Whitman, and grant writer, as her experience with budget planning and personnel matters. Green also holds a law degree, Lynch said.

            Regarding Wilson’s background, Lynch said he was currently in the role of town administrator to a small but complex community that requires the handling and understanding of federal lands and Native American rights. Lynch said that Wilson has had to work with both seasonal and year-round residents and visitors, as well as environmental issues. Wilson holds a masters degree in public administration and has worked in Washington, D.C. as an aid.

            The selectmen planned a meeting to interview the candidates on Monday, March 25, at 5:30 pm in the Town House conference room.

            Earlier in the evening, the selectmen met with Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters and FinCom member Margie Baldwin. The committee members discussed the issue of reserve funds and whether or not those funds should be utilized to balance out employment contractual agreements or for emergencies to pay for unexpected expenses.

            There was a fair amount of discussion as the selectmen were not in agreement with Winters and Baldwin who believed the account should be used for emergencies versus adding employees to the payroll. This conversation steamrolled into a wide range of other topics, such as Dawson’s statement that the DPW needed at least two more staff members to handle the overload in the office.

            Coming back to the issue of how the Reserve Fund should be used and for what, Winters said, “If you move it for contract negotiations you can only use it that way … it decreases the flexibility.”

            Finance Director Judy Mooney said, “Reserve funds are for unforeseen expenses. Most towns do an article for contract negotiations or put it in the budget of specific departments.”

            Looking back over the past five years, Mooney found that the town averaged a sum of $61,000 for contracts and $57,000 for unexpected expenses.

            A bit of frustration flared as Dawson defended the selectmen, saying that the budget was balanced and, furthermore: “the Finance Committee is an advisory board,” not responsible for running the entire town.

            Winters pointed out that between the FY20 budget and anticipated capital improvements, a whopping $41,000,000 is what taxpayers would be looking at. Waterman tempered that statement, saying, “Those are two very different budgets.”

            The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen will be on April 2 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Marilou Newell

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