News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 12, 2014
Penobscot voters OK funds for new trash compactor at special town meeting
School budget transfers approved

by Anne Berleant

With a dozen residents voting, two school and two municipal articles passed at a special town meeting on June 9. Sherm Hutchins served as moderator, with selectmen Stanley Shorey, Harold Hatch and Chairman Paul Bowen leading discussion on municipal questions. Superintendent Mark Hurvitt spoke on behalf of the school, with school board member Jim Goodman also in attendance.

Selectmen filed out of their town office into the meeting room promptly at 7 p.m.

“We’ll start the meeting and that way they’ll hear us,” Hutchins joked a few seconds before the selectmen appeared.

The two municipal articles asked first, that $40,000 be spent from the transfer station account on a stationary trash compactor “and related items,” and second, that $25,000 be appropriated from surplus to “be applied to the transfer station account as needed.”

“It’s purely financial,” Bowen said of the two requests.

In past years, the transfer station used a compactor and employee of Wights Disposal, run by Penobscot resident Kendrick Wight. He recently sold the business to Greg Bowden.

“[Wight] was operating at a loss,” Bowen said. “He was okay with it. Greg is not.”

The town currently pays $300 per day for the compactor and $175 per trip to Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) for disposal. The transfer station is open two days each week, with disposal at PERC required twice each week, for a total cost of “somewhere between $40,000 to $50,000 a year,” Bowen said.

“The people of this town have made it very clear they want this this transfer station here,” he said. “If we’re going to have it here, we have to make expenditures.”

If the town buys a compactor and 40 yard container, it would reduce trips to PERC by half, eliminate the $300 per day cost and pay for itself in about 18 months, Bowen explained. “It seems prudent for us to make this expenditure now.”

Selectmen had discussed the purchase before Bowden took over Wight’s Disposal, anticipating it would be an article at the 2015 town meeting, Hatch added.

“It’s something we were looking at to try and save the town money seven, eight months ago,” Hatch said. “We knew the time was coming.”

The bid for the compactor and one container is from Atlantic Recycling, which “helped us lay out a plan,” Bowen said. The compactor would be housed inside on a concrete slab and attached by hydraulic hoses to the container. When the container reaches 85 percent capacity, it will emit a warning to the attendant.

The town has received no other bids. “This has come up very quickly,” Bowen said.

Both votes were unanimous in favor.

School fund transfers approved

School articles were decided first, with Hurvitt, as a non-resident, granted permission to speak by unanimous vote.

Both articles concerned transferring funds from one school budget cost center to another in order to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. State law requires special town meeting approval for transfers needed to balance a budget line that has overspent by more than 5 percent.

The first asked for an $18,000 transfer from Regular Instruction to Student Transportation Services.

“What is the reason?” asked Finance Committee member Sally Bridges.

“We have to make sure all our cost centers are not in the red,” Hurvitt replied.

Bus repairs were behind the request for additional funds to the transportation line.

“We’ve had a run of bus repairs we didn’t anticipate,” Hurvitt explained. The 2013-14 budget allowed for $10,000, but repair bills amounted to about $19,000.

Penobscot has two buses, one purchased in 2010 and one in 2001. The latter has traveled over 159,000 miles and although the board delayed requesting funds for a new bus for 2014-15, it increased the amount budgeted for bus repairs to $15,000 for the upcoming year.

The Student Instruction budget line has enough funds left from this year to accommodate the transfer, and an additional $7,000 for special education costs.

“[It] is a healthy line,” Hurvitt said.

Voters approved that article and, after discussion, the next one as well asking for a $7,000 transfer from Regular Instruction, $5,000 from Student and Staff Support and $6,000 from System Administration to cover special education costs $16,228 over budget.

“There’s no one [budget line] that’s healthy enough” to cover the “unanticipated special education cost,” Hurvitt said, which was placement of a student at a “nearby day placement.” That cost was not known when the school board drafted and approved the 2014-15 budget.

“What’s that going to do to next year’s budget?” Bridges asked.

Special Education Director Sheila Irvine is determining whether that placement will be necessary in 2014-15, Hurvitt said. “Right now it’s not a problem, but it could be a problem.”

The meeting was adjourned in less than 30 minutes, with selectmen holding their regular weekly meeting afterward. The selectmen meet each Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the town hall.