WVN Newsletter #177: Landfill surcharge dropped
- 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
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The Board of Health has rescinded a new $50 surcharge for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
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
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
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
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
"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
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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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor