Selectmen will still conduct a Feb. 28 town meeting to help determine the fate of the still-controversial pay-as-you-throw program. But some were frustrated over input from the town attorney recommending a change in the legal notice.
One selectman even said it was an “embarrassment” to find out about conflicting town regulations now, as selectmen intended to hold the town meeting when they approved a trial period for the program in April.
Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz said Town Attorney Henry Beck, who was not present Tuesday, cited a town ordinance requiring the board of selectmen – and not residents at a town meeting – to make decisions regarding the transfer station and trash collection.
Selectmen unanimously agreed to “abide” by the results of the town meeting.
But Selectman William O’Brien pointed to the town charter, which allows selectmen to send any matter “deemed of importance” to a town meeting. He said he “strongly disagrees” with the town attorney.
Counsel also said a legal notice just warning discussion about pay-as-you-throw was “too vague” and might not meet requirements under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The legal warning now includes recommendations for selectmen to make pay-as-you-throw permanent, reduce the price of trash bags, drop the price of transfer station permits and put all funds from the program into an account to pay for the station.
O’Brien and Selectman Richard Szegda said the town meeting – slated for 7 p.m. at the Horace W. Porter School – is solely for a vote on the pay-as-you-throw program and additional items could be confusing.
But members of the solid waste and recycling advisory committee said the recommendations are part of its presentation and Luiz said the attorney felt the warning should reflect all possible discussion.
O’Brien and Szegda both voted against the modified wording for the legal notice, which passed with a 3-2 vote, saying the meeting should simply focus on whether the pay-as-you-throw program should be permanent.
O’Brien also repeatedly called it an “embarrassment” to find out about the recommended changes 13 days before the meeting, when selectmen had always intended to go to a town meeting.
The six-month trial period for the pay-as-you-throw program, which charges residents per bag of trash they discard, is over at the end of the month.
Selectmen planned as far back as last April to hold a town meeting to determine the next step.
But First Selectman Carmen Vance said the town does not seek input from the town attorney regarding a town meeting until the town is preparing the legal notice.
Selectmen also disagreed on bag prices and, ultimately, voted 2-3 against a request from one of their own to cut the prices in half.
Szegda, who motioned for the change, and O’Brien were the only supporters of the 50 percent drop.
The advisory committee recommended a 25 percent reduction in bag prices, bringing the prices down to $1.50 for 30-gallon bags, 75 cents for 14-gallon bags and 40 cents for eight-gallon bags.
The committee said the program would produce slightly less than $85,000 in revenue over the course a full year based on the current rate, and a 25 percent reduction would mean $63,000 in revenue, still enough to cover the program.
They also recommended the town charge $1 per car for sticker permits for the transfer station, with a limit of four permits per home, and all of the money generated from the program be used to pay for tipping and hauling fees.
The committee credited the program for the town’s recycling rate increasing to 40 percent for the months of September through December, up from 27 percent during the same period in 2009.
When comparing the same two time periods, the committee also said the town’s solid waste production dropped 54 percent.
The drop meant a 49 percent reduction in hauling and tipping fees, a savings of $13,492 over that time.
Szegda said he wanted to drop the prices in half, saying he is worried too many residents are opposed to the program and a larger reduction might be needed to get their approval.
Selectmen and committee members, though, said opponents might oppose a 50 percent drop amid fears that a price increase would immediately follow.
They also said increasing the prices to account for hauling and tipping fee increases in the near future would be difficult if the price is cut now.
Selectmen ultimately agreed not to set a price and said the legal notice should not include specific prices for the bags or permit fees.