PEPPERELL — After the Finance Committee refused to recommend another $862 for this spring’s hazardous waste disposal day, the Board of Health suspended the event and returned its $9,638 cost to the town’s general fund.
The board intends to hold another hazardous waste collection day in the fall, after the close of the current fiscal year, with a request for a $12,662 appropriation.
Receipt of the letter from Health Agent Edward Wirtanen at last week’s FinCom meeting hit a collective nerve, touching off debate about forming “understandings” with departments versus sticking to guidelines.
Finance Committee member John Croteau wondered if the health board’s future policy would now become financing the event at $12,500 plus the usual allowed annual percentage increase.
Accountant Theresa Walsh reported Wirtanen told her both the Highway and Fire Departments used the hazardous waste day to unload some of their items and highway offered to haul away solid waste in exchange.
Chairman Christopher DeSimone and committee member Stephanie Cronin both expressed dismay at the town using a program set aside for citizens. DeSimone said the health board proposal was a positive, providing next year’s funding will drop back to $9,600.
”In fairness we have to see how the hazardous waste day turns out,” Cronin said. “I feel spring is better. Last fall was not so good. I’m in favor (of the deal).”
”I’m not,” Croteau said.
”In 14 years that’s been my experience too,” Croteau said.
Walsh reminded the committee Wirtanen’s letter said the waste day will be funded by a warrant article and not through the Board of Health budget.
”See, that’s a good reason for it being in November,” DeSimone said, to which committee member Burke Bero asked, “Is there any reason for this other than avoiding our oversight?”
Walsh reminded the committee the health board opted to trim their budget last year to give $990 to town nurse Ellen Castellano.
When Cronin said it seemed a good compromise, Croteau said, “We set the guidelines. We have the responsibility to taxpayers. If we don’t follow them we open Pandora’s box. If we don’t follow them no one will.”
”They are guidelines,” DeSimone argued. “This committee is seven intelligent people who can use their discretion. It’s what we do; otherwise let’s just write a letter and stay home.”
”We’re voting down extra help for police, the Council on Aging, and library because they didn’t follow our guidelines,” Croteau responded.
”I’m going to feel terrible going against the (police) officer and Council on Aging. I held my parent’s 50th anniversary at the senior center but had to vote against it for the good of the town,” he added.
When DeSimone again argued for the use of discretion and Cronin pointed out modifying guidelines can often save money, Croteau said it sets a bad precedent.
”It lets departments come up with a plan (to circumvent directives),” he said. “People know we’re straight shooters. They don’t like us changing the rules in the middle. I’d love to say yes but with a $700,000 deficit, how can I?”
”Isn’t the purpose of these guidelines to let us have these discussions?” Burke Bero asked.
”You talk about guidelines then gas goes up to $3,” Gaspar said. “I agree with John. We’ll get a reputation and set ourselves up. We’ll be construed as playing favoritism.”
”How can it be favoritism when we take $9,000 back?” DeSimone said. “I can’t be worried about a reputation when we all use our discretion.”
Newly-appointed committee member Jeanne LeBlanc said she was not sure residents want to pay for the hazardous waste service, suggesting fees should be charged at the site.
”We can’t write a check to the treasury,” Walsh explained. “Massachusetts General Law says all money goes to the general fund.”
”Everything about the Finance Committee is principle,” Croteau said. “When we sit on that (town meeting) stage we’ll be measured.”
”We’re sitting here making a good, solid business decision,” DeSimone countered.
The Board of Health budget recommendation had been voted prior to receipt of Wirtanen’s letter. A motion to reconsider passed 5-1 with one abstention. A new budget of $127,222, which continued to include $6,000 for new health board filing cabinets, passed four votes to three.