Vernon delays trash debate to gather more information

Friday February 22, 2013

VERNON -- There still could be big changes in the way Vernon residents dispose of household trash.

But those changes aren’t coming as quickly as officials initially thought. Rather than taking the matter to this year’s Town Meeting, Selectboard members instead are taking time to gather more information.

"We figured, rather than to go into Town Meeting and not have the answers to people’s questions, it was better to slow it down," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell said.

The town’s trash discussions were spurred by the desire to save money and the need to comply with a new state law. Approved by the Legislature last year, the statute bans landfill disposal of recyclables and eventually also outlaws sending yard waste and food waste to the dump.

The recycling change takes place first, and the law says all trash haulers also must pick up recyclables by 2015.

For a town like Vernon -- one of only three in Windham County that provide townwide, curbside trash pickup -- that would mean paying a hauler for additional recyclable collection. Currently, Vernon residents voluntarily take their recyclables to containers at the town garage.

So officials had asked Bob Spencer, Windham Solid Waste Management District executive director, to look into Vernon’s options.

Last month, Spencer told the Selectboard that adding curbside pickup of recyclables -- while significantly boosting the recycling rate -- would wind up costing the town more.

Spencer also reported on a second option -- building a transfer station where residents would drop off their trash during set hours. Despite startup costs, Spencer estimated that a transfer station could save Vernon $42,000 annually.

Additionally, his report detailed a "pay-as-you-throw" program that would charge residents based on the amount of trash they generate.

O’Donnell said officials still are trying "to figure out what the best direction is for Vernon to go."

"We tried to get everything done for (this year’s) town meeting, and we just weren’t able to get enough information as far as dollars and cents and logistics of the law and so forth," she said.

O’Donnell said the board still expects to hold a public forum on the matter, possibly in April. However, allocating money for whatever trash option is chosen may be put off until Town Meeting 2014.

"If we need to have a special town meeting to appropriate money for it, we will. But I think we’re going to be able to make it in on next year’s budget before we actually hit the deadline date," O’Donnell said.

"A lot of towns are struggling with it because it’s totally different than what they’ve been providing and, really, we weren’t given enough time to be able to do the things we needed to do," she added.

In other news at this week’s Selectboard meeting:

-- Selectboard member Bob Miller said goodbye following his final meeting. Miller did not seek re-election after seven years on the board.

"I want to thank you very much for your dedication to the town and the hard work you’ve put in over the past seven years," O’Donnell told Miller.

She added that "even if we haven’t always agreed 100 percent on every issue, that’s what democracy is all about. And you’ve certainly made your points well known, and you’ve worked very hard for the town to make it a better place."

Miller thanked town voters "for putting me here for seven years."

He added that he may return to Selectboard meetings as a spectator, joking that "it’ll be much easier for me to sit out there and heckle you."

-- The Selectboard adopted a fraud-prevention policy. Officials said it is a proactive measure.

"It was actually suggested by Vermont League of Cities & Towns for all towns to pass this, and that’s actually where the language came from, too," O’Donnell said.

The policy’s purpose is to "provide a mechanism for employees and officers to bring to the attention of the town auditors (the public accountant employed by the Selectboard) any complaints regarding the integrity of the town’s internal financial controls or the accuracy or completeness of financial or other information."

The document says town employees and officers "shall not be discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed or discriminated against in any manner for raising reasonable questions concerning the fair presentation of town financial statements."

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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