SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Springfield Selectboard met for its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 23 and heard from Josephine Hingston, representing the Friends of the Springfield Recycling-Transfer Center, who presented a petition signed by 400 people from the towns of Springfield, Chester, Andover, Baltimore, and Windsor.
The petition, which Town Manager Tom Yennerell said was not legally binding, requests the Selectboard reconsider and rescind its earlier decision that changed the method of charging for waste disposal from a weight-based system to a volume-based system. The petition also asks to have the scales reinstalled to allow for the change.
The Selectboard acknowledged the petition as not legally binding but said that any petition with 400 signatures should be looked at. This is a budget item because the change back to a weight-based method requires the expenditure of over $111,000.
In her Letter to the Editor in The Shopper, dated Aug. 12, Hingston referred to a July Selectboard meeting where the change from per-pound to per-bag user fees was justified by town officials because the weight-based fee system was considered archaic and a redesign of the transfer station was planned to improve its overall efficiency. Town officials also said that scales could fail at any time and there were no backup scales.
By way of background regarding funding, Hingston’s letter went on to say that in 2017, Springfield received a one-time windfall of just over $114,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund of the South Windsor/Windham Solid Waste District – money that came from user fees held in trust by the district to be used for, among other things, planned and unplanned major repairs of a disposal facility.
Earlier this year, the town also received a $20,000 windfall following the dissolution of the Friends of the Springfield Transfer Station fund – money that came from redeemable bottle and can donations and donations to the Swap Shop. Forecasted revenue from solid waste from green ticket or punch card sales for 2019-2020 is $231,262, and that amount does not include $60,000 budgeted revenue from access stickers. There is $134,000 cash on hand for improvements to the transfer station if the Friends’ fund and the district fund are combined. Hingston’s letter said, “Springfield has never been so well-funded to invest in improvements to the transfer station facility.”
In her presentation to the Selectboard Dec. 23, Hingston said, “You’ve already heard from others and me the reasons we feel that the weight-based system is fairer, more transparent, and equally efficient…We also feel that a hard look needs to be given as to whether the planned financial investments really produce the improvements, savings, and revenue promised.”
Her proposal to the Selctboard asks, first, for a plan for the use of the $111,703, and the projected impacts on staff levels. Hingston said that dollar amount came from Selectboard minutes dated Aug. 14, 2017, when the money came in from the solid waste district fund and was based upon a study, which appears to have been the reason for the change that relies on the efficiency argument. Second and third, a projection of how the change will reduce costs and increase revenues. Fourth, a request for alternatives – such as whether you can achieve the same positive financial impact by making a modest increase in the per-pound rate without the large expenditure of funds and disruption of the system that has worked well. Fifth, a request to investigate investments in onsite improvements that will increase the return on recyclable materials. As the recycle stream increases, the per-pound solid waste disposal rates will drop.
Finally, Hingston requested that the Budget Advisory Committee consider these requests as they review the current budget proposal. The Selectboard took no action at this meeting.
In other business, James Fog of the Springfield Trails, Greenways, Byways and Rural Economy Advisory Committee asked the Selectboard to add a line item of $10,000 to repair the Toonerville Trail – an amount he said would mitigate the erosion to the pavement and avoid spending a lot more over time if the trail has to be repaved. He said the path was paved 20 years ago and it has survived well beyond the expected life span, but there are lots of cracks, invasive species, overgrowth, and the structural integrity of the path is in jeopardy. The $10,000 would cover those repairs.
The committee did calculations to ultimately repave the entire bike path based on a few different sources and used a figure of $150 per ton to complete the project, which Fog said could potentially cost the town about $3.8 million. Town Manager Tom Yennerrell disagreed with that number and said the Highway Department could do the job at $60 per ton, a number Fog said would still cost the town about $1.5 million. Fog said the $10,000 would cover repairs to specific damage spots, triaged from most serious to least, and would avert the costly repaving. He presented the numbers to show the worst-case scenario if the repairs were left untreated. The Selectboard discussed talking to the Highway Department to get a more accurate estimate.
Fog said the committee intends to apply for a grant from the state for trail improvements through the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Collaborative Pilot Community Grant Program, but he needs proof of commitment from the Selectboard to proceed with the application. He said the state announced the grants in early December with about six weeks to submit a proposal. The grant will seek funding to improve information about, access to, and connection between the town’s existing trail systems at Muckross State Park, the North Springfield Dam, and adjacent private lands. More specifics will be included in the actual proposal, which the committee intends to finalize at its Jan. 9 meeting.
When asked by The Shopper if the committee is asking for the same items in the grant as it is in the budget request, Fog said the only overlap of the two sources of funding concerns $1,000 for logistics and promotion of a 20th anniversary event and materials for trailhead kiosks, which the Selectboard agreed to partially fund in the amount of $500. The committee plans to seek additional funds for these items through its grant. If awarded, the grant will augment the budget funds, but getting the grant would not mean that any of these items would be deleted from the budget.
The Selectboard voted unanimously to authorize the Trails Committee to apply for the grant funding but took no action on the budget request at the meeting.
The Selectboard will meet once more with the Budget Advisory Committee Jan. 13 and plans to have a final budget for its Jan. 20 public hearing. A tentative overflow date for a Jan. 16 meeting will be added in the event a final budget is not ready by Jan. 13.