Voters Defund Town Clerk’s Salary

Marion voters have spoken and, in the noticeable absence of Town Clerk Ray Pickles, voted during the Annual Town Meeting on May 13 to reduce the fiscal year 2020 town clerk salary line from $19,493 to $0.

            The Finance Committee discussed the possibility of such a motion on April 17 and considered the best way to go about it since the town would need a mechanism to keep the $19,000 free to pay the salary of a potential appointed town clerk should Pickles resign after he’s stripped of a paycheck come July 1, 2019.

            Resident Charles St. Pierre motioned to amend Article 1 to reduce the town clerk salary to $0 and transfer the amount to the FY20 Selectmen’s line item in Article 2 to allow them to appoint a temporary town clerk, which was duly seconded.

            St. Pierre said it was unfair to keep paying Pickles, whom the Board of Selectmen had asked to resign in light of his indictment on criminal felony charges for allegedly stealing over $600,000 while serving as the executive director of the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District (CMW). A year prior, the CMW had filed a civil suit against Pickles, his wife, and a former CMW board chairman for embezzling roughly $800,000 in CMW funds over six years.

            “It’s unfair to any taxpayer in the town,” said St. Pierre. “We shouldn’t be paying for someone and adding insult to injury that we have all … incurred from the problem that has developed.”

            Resident Joe Zora defended Pickles, saying, “[The town clerk] deserves his day in court.

            “There’s a lawful process to follow. … We elected him for that amount of money. … Let the time run out.” Zora continued, “For us to give the power to the selectmen. … When we give that up, we minimize who we are. Let him have his day in court.”

            Town Moderator Brad Gordon asked for town counsel clarification on how the salary could be reduced and funded elsewhere in the warrant.

            However, Town Counsel Barbara Carboni said transferring money from one line item to another article is “outside the scope of the article.” She said the salary could be reduced, “But you can’t transfer it on a vote here to another item.” She continued, “When you get to the other line item, I’m not sure you would be able to increase the amount that’s in the warrant.”

            St. Pierre amended his motion to amend by simply reducing the salary to $0, which Carboni said he should submit in writing.

            After, during discussion of Article 2 – the FY20 $23,736,680 operating budget – Selectman John Waterman motioned to amend the Selectmen’s line item by increasing the amount by $19,493, while reducing that amount from the town clerk budget line item.

            “This gives us the money to hire or appoint a new town clerk,” said Waterman. “The town is required by law to have a town clerk,” and moving the money to the selectmen’s account was the proper avenue, given that the line item is “really a contracts account,” he said. 

            The other hot topic of the night was the outsourcing of curbside trash collection.

            After a brief presentation by new Town Administrator Jay McGrail, voters adopted Article 25 appropriating $420,000 to contract Waste Management for trash and recycling collection.

            There were only three options for residents, McGrail said, and outsourcing was the recommendation of the Board of Selectmen. However, there were two articles on the warrant to address trash collection – the one to outsource, and Article 26 to appropriate $582,090 for a new trash truck and bins to replace the two problematic trucks the town owns that are now 11 and 20 years old and subject to frequent breakdowns.

            According to McGrail, the town has overspent the Department of Public Works FY19 budget by $85,000 due to frequent repairs and the leasing of temporary replacement trucks.

            “This current situation is not sustainable … and you guys are receiving a poor service at the end of the day,” said McGrail, adding that Marion was only one of four towns in the region that still provides the service itself.

            Although cost savings will not be apparent this fiscal year as taxpayers incur the debt of the operational override, McGrail said savings is imminent as DPW workers are reassigned from trash collection to other tasks currently outsourced and workers’ compensation goes down.

            The tax impact of the override, McGrail said, would be about $120 a year for the average $491,000 home.

            Resident Adam Lambert said he lives in Sippican Woods and currently does not receive town provided collection. “Will we be able to get that with this system?” he asked.

            “That’s something to put on the list,” said Waterman.

            Another resident on Ladyslipper Lane said the town doesn’t collect his trash either, and McGrail said he would discuss service to less accessible areas as part of contract negotiations.

            The contract is for five years, with two one-year extensions allowed at a 2 percent annual escalation rate per year. Included are 5,000 rollout 65-gallon trash bins and 95-gallon recycle bins, which was a concern for resident Nancy Breitmayer due to the size of the bins and the length of her driveway.

            The actual cost savings was not clear, Waterman said, since the DPW had never established a work order system.

            “We’re not presenting this as something that’s going to save us money,” said Waterman. Those savings will be actualized in the long run, he stated. “We’re at a fork in the road – we either buy new trucks or outsource … or we privatize.”

            Privatizing, the third option, would leave private trash collection up to the residents at a personal cost of $400 to $500 a year, McGrail said.

            With adoption of Article 25 to outsource, Article 26 to buy a new trash truck was passed over.

            Several wastewater-related articles fueled discussion, beginning with Article 8, the $3,009,182 difference of the underestimated cost to line the sewer lagoon and make related wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

            Selectman Randy Parker described the gap between engineering firm CDM Smith’s estimated cost and the actual costs of the two bids for the project as a “flagrant error”, resulting in the town’s reconsideration before using the firm for future projects.

            Resident Jay Muir pointed out that the total cost of the project – which will cost $4,448,000 instead of CDM Smith’s estimated $2.5 million – will be shouldered by the 1,700 sewer ratepayers only.

            “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the ratepayers to look at the needs of the town when they have an increasing amount of sewage debt that they need to pay. … To me, that’s a travesty,” he said, eliciting some applause.

            “We used to be on a slippery slope,” said Zora. “Now we’re in a free fall.” Zora was chastised by the town moderator several times for veering off topic on the various wastewater articles.

            Resident Jennifer Stewart asked how sewer rates would be affected, and Finance Director Judy Mooney stated that rates would likely rise by 3-5 percent on the base rate between 5-12 percent on the various tiers, with tier 3 paying more than tier 1 consumers as they do now.

            The article passed with the required two-thirds vote, as this was a bond issuance article.

            Article 9, the $1,743,112 difference of the underestimated cost to upgrade the UV light disinfection equipment and other filtration work at the wastewater treatment plant also passed by the required two-thirds vote.

            Voters approved Article 10 to fund a Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan at $350,000, but this time the entire town will be footing the bill, not just sewer ratepayers.

            The one-time tax hit will fund a plan to tackle not only the future of the wastewater treatment plant, but also septic system upgrades and other alternatives to comply with federal and state water quality standards.

            “If we had had a plan 10 years ago, that spending would’ve been spread out over a greater length of time,” said Ray Cullum who has been voluntarily assisting the town with its wastewater options. “If we don’t do it, it’s going to be the same old, same old – let’s just do it now and plan it right.”

            Voters approved Article 22 for a new ambulance, against the recommendation of the Finance Committee, which figured the current backup ambulance has been repaired and only has 65,000 miles.

            Fire Chief Brian Jackvony said the town has spent $5,200 this year on repairs and he isn’t sure the truck will even pass inspection. The ambulance broke down twice on the way to Rhode Island Hospital and Charlton Hospital, “And when we make these trips, we’re taking trauma patients.”

            The mileage isn’t as important as the hours the truck is running, the chief said, “And we anticipate more breakdowns and more costly repairs.”

            Article 2, the FY20 budget, was adopted; however, there was some discussion on the selectmen’s line item, the 204 percent increase in the Planning Board line item to hire the part-time planner full-time, the $53,000 police truck, tree warden line item that jumped from $20,700 to $30,700, and the Sippican School budget at $6,420,408.

            Other articles that passed that night with minimal or no discussion: Article 3, total Water Enterprise budget of $2,252,273; Article 4, total Sewer Enterprise budget of $3,114,828; Article 5, $25,000 from the Overlay Surplus Account for the Board of Assessors for the reevaluation of real and personal property; Article 6, $8,420 for the Facilities Department to install a new copper line and circulation pump at the police station; Article 7 for $5,200 for the town clerk’s office to purchase a new voting machine; Article 11, $2,800,000 to fund the water main project slated for Mill Road between Sparrow Lane and Rocky Knook Lane; Article 12, $182,000 to supplement the 2016 Town Meeting appropriated money to repair the well at Mary’s Pond in Rochester; Article 13, $24,000 to replace the roof at Fire Station 2; Article 14, $13,000 to renovate the restroom at the DPW garage; Article 15, $42,000 for a new emergency backup generator for the police station; Article 16, $50,000 for the DPW to comply with OSHA requirements; Article 17, $105,000 for engineering and design of the Point Road water main replacement project; Article 18, $10,000 for the harbormaster to install new channel markers; Article 19, $40,000 for the Water Department to expand the department’s SCADA control system; Article 20, $21,366 for a new awning and railing system at the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center; Article 21, $42,590 for the harbormaster to buy a new work barge for the Marine Department; Article 23, $30,000 for a new water tank for the Fire department’s brush breaker; Article 24, $102,644 for the School Department to upgrade its wireless network infrastructure at Sippican School.

            The Special Town Meeting Article S1 to supplement the DPW snow and ice removal line item by $63,749 also passed.

Marion Annual Town Meeting Part 1

By Jean Perry

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