BRATTLEBORO — The Select Board voted to remove David Schoales from the Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Supervisors after he cast a vote in opposition to the board's wishes.
On Nov. 1, the Select Board had advised board member Schoales to vote to close the recycling facility and change assessment models so that instead of just population, towns would be charged based on a 50/50 split between grand list and population. Ten days later, the WSWMD board ended up voting to keep the facility open and imposed a 20 percent surcharge annually on the more distant towns with transfer stations. And Schoales' support for that was problematic for fellow Select Board members.
"It raised substantial issues about public policy decisions that the board made through that vote," Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said. "It also raised questions about how our votes are going to be cast the day after tomorrow."
The WSWMD board is having another meeting on Thursday, Dec. 8.
Gartenstein said it saddened him to "no end" to have to vote to remove Schoales from the board of supervisors.
"I think that you're a man of conscience and diligence," Gartenstein said to Schoales.
Schoales recalled the meeting, saying other towns' preferences were explained before any vote was held. Listening to the conversation, he said, the Brattleboro board's goal of discontinuing the MRF was not going to be achieved and neither was going to an assessment model using the grand list. A 20 percent surcharge, proposed for the first time by the WSWMD board Chairman Lou Bruso the night of the meeting, would mean an annual 6 percent savings or $10,000 for Brattleboro and other towns with drop-off bins in close proximity to the facility.
Schoales said the motion at the WSWMD meeting was to continue the current operations with the new surcharge.
"If that didn't pass, the next motion would be to keep current operations at the current assessment model and that $10,000 would be out the window as well," he said. "So my judgment based on there not being any chance of closing the MRF with the current board this year and even less chance of changing the assessment model to the one that we had recommended with the population merger, it didn't make any sense to vote against it and give away $10,000 on the next vote. The MRF may not be on the budget when we get to Thursday."
Select Board member John Allen was appointed to replace Schoales.
"I'm trying to be as gentle as I can," Allen told Schoales. "That really wasn't your decision ... You're assuming that it would probably go that way. I just think when you're asked to do a vote a certain way, you really have to put blinders on and let the chips fall where they may ... I understand your concern and your love for the town and everything but I'm just having a little bit of a hard time with that end of it."
Schoales has been on the WSWMD board for four years. Still, he said, he is the newest member on it.
"There's not a lot of mind changing that happens on that board," he added.
Select Board Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor said the vote was supposed to be made a certain way, whether it ended up as a win or loss for the town.
"Sometimes we have to take a stand," she said. "That's what Brattleboro wanted. That was our message to the Windham Solid Waste district."
Select Board member Dick DeGray suggested Schoales resign before the Select Board voted for his removal from the board of supervisors.
"I think exit with some dignity rather than face the firing squad, which you already have," DeGray told Schoales. "I can understand my fellow colleagues being upset... I applaud you for trying to save us $10,000. But at the end of the day, I do agree with Kate. Your job as our representative was to carry out our vote."
Schoales abstained from voting on his removal from the WSWMD board. All four of the other board members voted for it.
"I want to thank David for his really amazing service on the board, thoughtful always," WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said later in the meeting.
Prior to voting to remove Schoales from the board of supervisors, the Select Board approved a change in its collection of recyclables, which will now go to a facility in Rutland, rather than WSWMD's facility on Old Ferry Road. Once details are worked out between Triple T Trucking and the town, the materials will be taken to Casella in Rutland, and the town will be moving from dual stream to single stream recycling. Required are revisions to the town's contract with Triple T Trucking. A small savings is expected.
While the timeline for changing to single stream recycling is up in the air, the research has been done.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said Brattleboro could save money by bringing the materials to the processing facility in Rutland. "All of the materials — the beverage containers and other containers along with the paper products — can all go into one bin. People don't have to do that... But it would be allowed under single stream. Because it's going to streamline the collections process for Triple T, they've offered us a $24,000 reduction in the cost for the trucking," Elwell said.
A tipping fee will vary at different times of the year. At the current rate of $17 a ton, Elwell said, the total cost of going to Rutland would be in the range of $150,000 to $160,000 for a year. But officials are unsure how much of the materials currently collected at the district's drop-off bins will make it to the town's curbside program. Some Brattleboro residents use the bins but so do people from other towns.
If 25 percent of what's being disposed at the bins at Fairground Road comes to the curbside program, the town is looking at an approximately $150,500 price tag. At 50 percent, the cost would be about $163,000. Under the proposed WSWMD budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Brattleboro's assessment comes to $163,327.
Another benefit touted by Elwell involved the concept of recycling. All materials will be recycled under the new arrangement. WSWMD has suspended collection of plastic items marked three through seven, citing a lack of market for those items. The town of Brattleboro did not ask residents to separate the items. Confusion was a concern.
Brattleboro accounts for 20 percent of the tonnage brought to the MRF. Pulling that out, WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said, will close it.
"It doesn't take a vote at that point," he said. "But that would allow for re-purposing of the building and the facilities for organics management."
There has been no talk of the town leaving the solid waste district. How Brattleboro will be assessed with no more recycling service is to be determined, Spencer told the Reformer.
Schoales wanted to ensure organic composting would continue.
"The organics could possibly continue to go to the district," Elwell said. "They could possibly go elsewhere nearby. Triple T will control that decision but we can discuss with them the possibility."
The composting program is a growing enterprise for the district, especially with Vermont's Act 148 requirements tightening. Based on state requirements for commercial entities, Elwell said, businesses could continue to bring organics to the district even if curbside went somewhere else.
Spencer said 75 percent of the district's revenue from the composting collection comes from Brattleboro.
"As other food-scrap generators come on, that proportion decreases," he said. "But right now, the composting facility operation is cash positive."
He said a grant from the Agency of Natural Resources will help the district work with 60 food-scrap generators identified in Brattleboro.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.