by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – The perennial problem of what to do about the transfer station came up once again at Wolcott’s July 21 select board meeting. The board has been wrestling for months with challenges, both practical and financial, regarding the transfer station, some of which the pandemic made worse.
The most practical concern the board is attempting to resolve is the heater’s fan, which does not work, and no one has a clear understanding of why. Board member Richard Lee was the most familiar with the situation and said that the reason is simply that the transfer station changed to a solar-driven power system, which did not have an extra outlet, and might not be able to power the fan if it did. He said the older system with two plugs could drive the fan but had other problems. The only short-term solution he could come up with was to try to get a 12-volt fan that could be powered with a 12-volt battery.
The town’s contracted electrician just retired and Wolcott is in the process of trying to find a replacement. The board recognized that a new electrician might not have expertise in solar arrays. The board will look for someone with that expertise to examine the transfer station fan and make recommendations, with chair Linda Martin suggesting perhaps Skorstad Solar of Hardwick be contacted.
This meeting’s financial discussion came after vice chair Kurt Klein and member Allen Carpenter received detailed reports from Town Clerk Belinda Clegg about the facility’s revenues and expenses going back to 2018. Klein cautioned that the information had only just become available, so the analysis was not detailed yet, but the two had a “high-level” view of the financial picture.
Carpenter focused on the revenues, and said “most of it looked pretty steady” and saw only “normal patterns.” Klein said the revenues were “amazingly steady” and “haven’t declined,” but “expenses have increased to the point where “I believe 2021 will be running at about a five to seven-percent deficit.”
He attributed the increase in expenses to additional fees, a slight increase in payroll, and, in what he said he found surprising, cardboard.
Klein said, “I think this is the result of the pandemic. People did their shopping on Amazon, and I believe that’s not going to change. That’s the new standard.”
He said to put the transfer station on a better financial trajectory, the only solution he saw was increasing prices because the current situation was “unsustainable.”
Klein said, “There’s a lot of open issues with the facility, and I don’t see easy answers. I can see that, if we continue as we are now, it’s going to get bad.”
His preliminary analysis said the transfer station’s fee schedule might need to increase to “be a little bit higher than Stowe.” Klein added that “the whole county is in trouble, transfer stations are shutting down” because of staffing/personnel issues.
He suggested that the fee for trash increase, because “trash is where the income is,” but also said it was important to try and pay for the costs of cardboard by, for example, not treating ten boxes the same price-wise as a hundred.
Martin did not disagree with that, conceptually, but said, “We need to think about how that’s handled, is someone going to stand there manually, and put [the boxes] in?” She said that because of the layout, workers at the transfer station could sometimes not determine what was being thrown in, and how much.
The town has cut back on its compost pick-up as discussed at the last meeting, but is still spending $20 for the service. Board member Kurt Billings said, “If you get $5 worth of compost and you have to spend $20 to get rid of it, why are we even doing it?” The rest of the board reminded him that composting is now mandated by the state.
Clegg said that even the sort of fees Klein had brought to the table were in her opinion “very low,” especially considering many of the people using the transfer station were “coming from outside [the state].” She had an example of a friend in Connecticut who had someone remove and dispose of a piece of furniture, and the associated expense was far more than the $10 that it would have cost at the transfer station.
Klein said another part of the problem was “discipline,” for which he gave examples of simply making sure that one compost bin was filled before the other instead of two half-full ones, and not calling for pickup of the roll-up unless it was needed. He also wanted to see more attention paid to the customers getting the correct pricing at the window.
The board decided to reach out to the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District and discuss some options. Klein believed there might be a different strategy than the town is using for cardboard, which relies on Casella, since that one item is, in his opinion, “just going to get bigger and bigger.”