PITTSTON — Residents at the annual Town Meeting turned back efforts to not pay $26,660 in solid waste disposal fees to use Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta and $1,500 to help create a riverside recreational area, instead agreeing to fully fund both.
Resident Terry Shepherd, echoing similar concerns he shared at last year’s meeting, said even if the town pays $26,600 so its residents can take their trash, or have it taken, to Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta, they, or private haulers, are still charged a tipping fee when they take their garbage to the facility. He said that amounts to double dipping, an accusation he later made about the town’s contribution to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley. He argued that even if voters agree to pay $14,875 to allow Pittston residents’ children to go to Boys & Girls Clubs — which voters later did — parents are still charged a fee.
“Isn’t there any way we could argue with” Hatch Hill officials, over the fees charged to the town so Pittston trash can go there, Shepherd asked.
Select Board members said they tried that, and have raised the issue in meetings with Hatch Hill leaders several times in recent years, but didn’t get anywhere. They said the response was if Pittston didn’t want to use Hatch Hill and pay the fees charged, the town could go elsewhere.
“We seem to have no negotiating place in this,” said board member Jane Hubert. “It’s either pay this fee, or go somewhere else.”
The town used a West Bath facility as a site where residents could take their trash after switching in 2013, but returned to Hatch Hill within a couple of years after residents complained about the distance, and trash haulers expressed concerns about not being able to use Hatch Hill.
The funding article for Hatch Hill passed, with only a handful of votes against it.
One resident suggested not appropriating $1,500, as proposed on the warrant, for improvements to the town-owned river walk site alongside the Kennebec River, and instead wanted to abandon the project out of concern it will be costly and just sell the land.
Select Board member Jean Ambrose countered that suggestion, noting development at the site will be a project over several years, and since the town plans to take advantage of local expertise, volunteer labor and seek grant funding, it should not be expensive. And residents said the spot could provide a great place for residents to recreate in their own community.
Ambrose acknowledged the site, a former gravel pit, has some scrap metal and trees that need to be removed, and environmental testing to be done, but said there already are some makeshift trails there. She added that it abuts an island where a landowner has donated a third of the island to the town.
“For now it’s worth exploring, and we’ve got a good handle on ways to deal with some of the problems there now,” Ambrose said. “We’re not going to spend much money.”
The approximately 125 residents who turned out for the meeting ultimately passed every item put before them, in just over an hour, including all funding items for the annual town budget.
Those items included $396,000 for snow removal, up from the $330,000 budgeted last year.
Hubert said that cost is up because the town, like some others in Maine, had a hard time finding a contractor to hire to plow town roads, and had to go with a contractor with a higher price.
Tim Lawrence, a member of the Budget Committee, said when the committee went through the budget this year he never got an answer to his question of why the request from the Pittston Fair was up by $500, at $4,500.
Hope Ricker, a member of the Pittston Fair Committee, explained the fairgrounds serve a lot of purposes and is available for the town to use, not just as host to the annual fair. Its expenses have gone up, just like everyone else’s, with insurance being especially costly.
“It’s an all-volunteer organization and we struggle. We do the best we can,” she said. “Our expenses are going up all the time and that’s why we’re asking for an extra $500.”
Debate was largely easygoing Saturday. There appeared to be no carryover, other than a couple of candidates’ signs placed on vehicles, from a contentious municipal election to be decided at the polls Monday. Voting is set from noon to 7 p.m. at the Town Office at 38 Whitefield Road.
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