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187WVN Newsletter #177: Landfill surcharge dropped

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jul 26, 2006
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Two significant decisions this week: One is a partial victory for
      Landfill users who protested vociferously against recent
      changes. The other is less noticeable but might have
      long-lasting effects.

      HALF A LOAF FOR PROTESTERS

      The Board of Health has rescinded a new $50 surcharge for
      pickup trucks using the Landfill, but for now the decision to stop
      accepting wood stands.

      The board voted on Tuesday night, a day after an unsuccessful
      attempt to wring more money from Finance Committee. The
      FinCom, which In fiscal 2006 had cut parts of the board's
      budget requests for the wood and waste-ban accounts by nearly
      40 percent, said the board should stay within budget but is free
      to set fees.

      A handout from the Board of Health Monday night indicated that
      without the truck surcharge, residents could expect higher fees
      in fiscal 2008.

      Many Landfill users criticized the board for insufficient notice and
      poor process after it quietly announced the changes. For many,
      including people who don't own pickups, the decision to charge
      more for pickups on the basis of presumed capacity seemed
      obviously arbitrary and discriminatory. For one thing, they said,
      some SUVs and minivans have a larger capacity than some
      pickups.

      Wood collection is a more complicated question. Along with
      electronic equipment and certain materials, wood isn't permitted
      in landfills. While new state rules on wood disposal, along with
      inflation and fuel costs, were driving up the cost of contracting for
      legal wood disposal from $35 per ton to more than $100, the
      BoH budget for wood disposal was level-funded.

      In fiscal 2006 expenses for wood disposal were $20,000. This
      year, the anticipated expenses for wood are $10,000-$12,000 for
      brush and $8,000-$10,000 through the final wood collection day
      in July.

      The board said it couldn't create a workable plan for fee-based
      wood collection. Members were skeptical about Sudbury's
      system of charging on the basis of an eyeball estimate of the
      volume, which is said to generate much argument.

      In several BoH meetings Landfill customers predicted that
      unless the town restores wood collection, scrap wood will be
      disposed of surreptitiously by illegal dumping or concealing
      small pieces in bags. Selectman Alan Reiss reported earlier this
      week that he had already seen piles of wood dumped on
      roadsides.

      BoH Chair Michelle Wolf hadn't returned phone calls by WVN's
      deadline, but Health Department staffers were responding to
      inquiries with an explanation of the Tuesday decision as a
      necessary response to the FinCom's budget cuts. They also
      expressed the hope that concerned citizens would make their
      views known when the FinCom begins working on next year's
      budget in the fall.

      Part of the problem is that Landfill fees for disposing of
      electronics are generating significantly less revenue than
      anticipated. The waste-ban account (including electronics) was
      also cut in fiscal 2006 from $30,000 to $18,500, and level funded
      in 2007. Pay-as-you-throw for larger electronics such as TVs
      was implemented in January 2006.


      -- Molly Upton

      CPC CHAIR REJECTS REAPPOINTMENT

      Two weeks after contentious debate postponed a decision, the
      selectmen voted unanimously Monday night to reappoint
      Community Preservation Committee Chairman Michael
      Patterson. Within hours Patterson rejected the reappointment.

      But the underlying issue remains and is unlikely to go away:
      Whether all town boards and committees should
      unquestioningly follow the opinions of lawyers hired by the
      selectmen.

      Patterson told WVN that he went through "a lot of anguish" in
      deciding that he couldn't continue without acquiescing in the
      position of the majority of the selectmen, which he said would
      compromise the independence necessary for a committee to
      make well-considered decisions.

      Patterson also hinted at a hostile atmosphere and lack of
      decorum in the board's criticism of his position on legal
      authority. For example, Selectman Michael Tichnor asserted that
      Patterson's view was "an affront to the selectmen," Patterson
      said.

      "There was an obvious element of coercion which I feel was
      inappropriate," he said.

      On Monday night Tichnor and Bill Whitney said they would vote
      for reappointment, but repeated their argument from the previous
      meeting on the presumed authority of town counsel.

      Whitney and Tichnor were upset weeks ago when Patterson
      cited a legal opinion from the Massachusetts Department of
      Revenue advising against using Community Preservation Act
      funds to pay part of the cost of installing artificial turf at the High
      School football field. The selectmen requested opinions from
      town counsel and an outside firm to support using CPA funds.

      Patterson said he found those two legal opinions flawed and
      regarded his vote against using CPA funds as a matter of
      conscience. Ultimately his committee voted 5-2 in favor of using
      the funds, and the voters will make the final decision at a
      special Town meeting in the fall.

      On Monday night selectmen Alan Reiss and Doug Leard
      disagreed vigorously with Whitney and Tichnor. Members of town
      boards and committees should have the freedom to come to
      their own conclusions, Reiss said: Opinions of town counsel are
      just that -- opinions -- and should be "considered but not
      worshiped." Town government benefits from the collective
      wisdom of its officials, he said.

      Leard argued that the CPA legal issue is not black and white,
      adding that officials have the right to independent judgment as
      long as it doesn't legally jeopardize the town.

      It was clear that citizens had lobbied the selectmen. "My motives
      have been questioned by some," Leard said, affirming that while
      he supports Patterson he also strongly supports the turf project.
      Chairman Joe Nolan said he had heard from citizens who
      supported reappointment, and cited Patterson's military record
      as well as his service to the town and wide reputation for
      integrity. Patterson serves Wayland in several other volunteer
      capacities.

      Nolan said little but sided with Tichnor and Whitney against
      Reiss and Leard.

      The practical issue is a matter of $300,000 in taxpayer funds to
      supplement about $700,000 in private donations. But Tichnor
      said he wants the selectmen to clarify the matter of legal
      opinions solicited by the selectmen.

      The governmental model that Tichnor, Whitney and Nolan
      implicitly advocate gives maximum power to the Board of
      Selectmen. The opposing view, explained in the Massachusetts
      Municipal Association's Handbook for Selectmen,
      acknowledges a board of selectmen as first among equals but
      notes that other boards have considerable independence. In this
      view, towns are not run in the top-down style of private
      corporations. Patterson says the shared-power model has been
      typical of Wayland in the past.

      Tichnor made it clear that he won't drop the issue. That could
      have an effect not only in the future but immediately, since the
      selectmen must appoint a replacement for Patterson.

      -- Michael Short
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      Michael Short, Editor