Trash district committee: It's time for 'hands on' management

Feb 9, 2018

Shortly after dismissing longtime management consultant Moss Hollow Management, members of the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse District Committee say it was time to get hands on with every aspect of management themselves.

The district, which allows the three member towns to jointly contract with waste-to-energy facility SEMASS in Rochester, operates transfer stations in Carver and Marion.

Residents pay a yearly fee for access to the transfer stations. Private trash collectors also leave waste at the stations; that waste is weighed and flagged with the town from which it was received. The amount of trash a town deposits at the transfer stations, directly correlates to the fee it is charged.

The district committee, which is made up of representatives from each town, is charged with the oversight of the district—including the hiring of an administrator to oversee its day-to-day operation. Until January, Moss Hollow Management, owned by Marion's Town Clerk Ray Pickles, filled that role.

The district has not been audited since 2012, it was revealed at a Feb. 8 meeting of the district committee. As a result, Carver Town Administrator Michael Malinoski explained that the committee isn't sure how much money is coming into the district, and how much is leaving it.

The financial assets of the district have been a concern since early 2017, when the cost of disposal fees skyrocketed. Marion received a bill of $25,000—after five years without any bills at all. Wareham, which had paid an average f $1,200 over the previous several years, was issued a bill for $89,000, while Carver's 2017 bill totaled around $59,000.

Marion's Town Administrator Paul Dawson said that an audit for 2013 was begun, but never finished. He said he is waiting on documents from Pickles—and added that it's possible that the documents don't exist at all.

Based on the possible lack of documentation, Marion Town Accountant Judy Mooney recommended an individual forensic audit for the years 2013-2017. "I really think that we're better off looking at every transaction, if we can find it," she said.

The committee looked particularly at money in the district's stabilization fund; while the fund should have around $20,000 available, committee member Norm Hills reported that the account only holds about $5,000.

The total amount held in all of the district's five bank accounts is $31,455.

"We just aren't sure where that money went," Dawson said. "That's not to say it wasn't legally used—we just don't know exactly what it was used for."

The district's budget for fiscal year 2019 should also be revised, the committee decided, after members were made aware that the retirement pay of one former Wareham employee was not factored into it.

Even if there was an unintentional misuse of funding, something Dawson added he didn't expect, the district has insurance which will cover it. "If something happens you weren't aware of," he explained, "it's really somebody else's problem so long as you're not doing anything illegal."

The lack of audits, Dawson said, raised alarm bells in the heads of the three towns' administrators regarding the state of the district's finances. The district's agreement with SEMASS ends on December 31, 2020.

"With three years left," Dawson said, "it was time for us to really become hands-on with management and know where the money is going ourselves." If the committee is aware of all financial transactions, he explained, the district will be in the best possible shape to move forward when the contract ends.

Especially, Malinoski explained, as garbage disposal prices are heading upwards. SEMASS currently pays the district $240,000 per year to dispose of ashes it produces. The number is based on a $1 payment for every ton of trash disposed of. While most of the burned ash is distributed in Massachusetts landfills, several landfills in the state are closing in the next two years. "Then you add not only the cost of dumping, but trucking," Dawson said, "and we aren't used to paying anything."

Malinoski estimated that the cost to the towns to dispose of garbage after the SEMASS contract ends could end up in the $2-2.5 million dollar range.