Agreement clears path to consolidate trash disposal

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional Refuse District is considering a new agreement that would change the way member towns pay for buildings and land, reduce the size of the governing committee, and lengthen the term of committee members. A consolidation committee presented the draft agreement to the refuse district committee last Thursday.

The draft agreement would clear the way for Oak Bluffs and Tisbury to rejoin the regional refuse district, consolidating all Island trash disposal into one operation.

Island towns created the regional district in 1983, at a time when landfills were closing. The district provided a way for the towns to avoid overlapping trash disposal services and save money. In 1993, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury pulled out of the regional agreement. Those towns hired a private firm to dispose of trash.

Currently, Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury collect trash at local drop-off facilities. The refuse district hauls the solid waste to its facility on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, across from the airport entrance. That facility also serves as the drop-off station for Edgartown.

Refuse revisited

The most significant change in the draft agreement is the way member towns are charged for the capital costs. Those costs include construction of new buildings, repairs to existing buildings, and the purchase of land. Capital costs also include payment of interest and principle on any loans to finance capital improvements.

The district now assesses capital costs through a formula based on the weight of trash, but that formula has proved to be a problem.

“Because private carriers mix rubbish from different towns it is impossible to get the actual number,” committee chairman John Clarke of Edgartown said Monday.

The draft agreement would base assessments for capital costs on the total assessed properties in the towns, as of October 1 of each year.

“It makes sense to move the number to the new proposal which apportions based on dwelling units,” Mr. Clarke said.

The total would be determined by the state Department of Revenue, which publishes data on assessed values annually.

“We can look at it and see what each town has — single family dwellings, hotels, commercial businesses,” Larry Mercier of Edgartown said. Mr. Mercier helped draft the agreement. He said using the assessed value formula results in apportioned amounts that are surprisingly close to the current formula.

Island residents and businesses would continue to pay the operating costs of the facility as they do now, through user fees, according to a rate structure developed by the committee.

Big Question

Mr. Mercier addressed what he called “the elephant in the room.” He asked whether Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are committed to rejoining the district.

“The endorsement I’ve received from my selectmen, is definitely a sign that we want to come in,” Fred LaPiana, Tisbury public works director said. “We would like to see what your sensitivities are.”

Town officials in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury support the new draft, but it has not yet been put before voters, who must eventually approve or reject it.

The draft agreement does not assess joining towns for capital costs already incurred. This year the district will pay about $560,000 in capital costs. Most of that total is repayment of principle and interest on loans to build the refuse facility. Oak Bluffs and Tisbury would share the current annual capital costs if they join the district, reducing the share paid by the four towns that now make up the district.

There was discussion about whether Oak Bluffs and Tisbury should pay a retroactive assessment for the existing buildings and land. Under the agreement, they would not owe any retroactive payment. However, should a town leave the district in the future, that town would be obligated to pay principle and interest on the loans until they are retired.

Mr. Mercier said that clause was part of the original agreement, but the refuse district failed to enforce it when the two towns left the district in 1983.

Coming to terms

The draft agreement would also change the size of the refuse district committee. It would reduce the number of appointments made by each town from two to one.

Under the new document, either the board of health, or the board of selectmen could make appointments. Each town would decide which board would become the appointing authority.

The terms of committee members would change from two to three years. Terms would be staggered so members from one up-Island town and one down-Island town would be appointed each year.

The agreement needs approval of the refuse district committee and town meeting voters in all six Island towns before it takes effect. It may also need new state legislation.