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Hoosac Water Quality District Facing Prospect of Losing Compost Operation
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:28AM / Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — North Adams and Williamstown could be facing considerably higher sewer fees in the near future if the commonwealth ends a 40-year-old composting program.
Hoosac Water Quality District Chief Operator Brad Furlon broke the news to the Williamtown Finance Committee in his presentation of the district's fiscal year 2024 spending plan.
"There's always been revenues for septage fees and compost fees," Furlon said on Wednesday. "The district was the first facility in the commonwealth to start composting in the early 1980s. … Well, that looks like it's coming to an end.
"Because of the emerging contaminants — PFOA, which we're dealing with with our water, and PFOS — more than likely the district is not going to be able to continue to compost after the end of 2023."
Furlon said that most other New England states had ended or severely curtailed composting programs due to the PFOA and PFOS contamination. He said Massachusetts has lagged but could stop certifying facilities like the Hoosac Water Quality Districts by the end of the year.
"If we cannot compost anymore, the district is going to have to ship out its sludge to landfills or incineration," Furlon said. "If this happens, it's potentially going to add $500,000 to $750,000 a year to the budget."
That added cost would also come with lost revenue for the compost material the district currently sells as fertilizer.
The news that the compost program could be ending came as a surprise to the Fin Comm and Williamstown Accountant Anna Osborn, who told the committee that she did not know how to adjust the sewer rate for a potential increase in cost in the middle of the fiscal year.
"Brad just threw me for a loop with what he said," Osborn told the panel.
"We did make some adjustments last year. We raised the rates [for FY23]. We're trying to keep the rates flat this year, which I think we can do. We just are not going to have a lot of excess here if Brad comes back and tells us he needs an extra whatever."
Osborn and Town Manager Robert Menicocci told the committee they would look further into the issue and come back with more information at a future meeting.
Menicocci said it is not a certainty that the change in regulation would hit as early as feared.
"If for some reason [the commonwealth is] thinking more thoughtfully about it, I wouldn't be surprised to see the final decision on a later date past January," Menicocci said. "Before we panic, let's make sure that's reasonable information.
"The other thing I would be concerned about, to go back to the panic mode is if this ever does happen, whatever haulage is today is probably going to change dramatically because there's going to be a rush, and whoever the receivers are will jack up their prices dramatically. … I'm interested to hear what the current rate is and if there are concerns about what the future rate will be."
The water and sewer enterprise funds were among the last town cost centers to be reviewed by the Fin Comm in its FY24 meeting cycle.
Also last Wednesday, the committee looked at the budget for the Milne Public Library and the three non-profits that will ask town meeting for appropriations in separate warrant articles in May.
The meeting will be asked to approve expenditures of taxpayer funds to support the Williamstown Youth Center, Williamstown Chamber of Commerce and Williamstown Community Preschool as the town has done in recent years.
Representatives from each of the non-profits discussed their budget needs. One used the opportunity to discuss how it has responded to input from the Finance Committee in past years.
WYC Executive Director Mike Williams said that in reaction to comments from Finance Committee member Fred Puddester, the facility this year raised its program fees by 10 percent, the largest single increase in Williams' 17 years at the center.
It also created an appeal for donations that automatically pops up on its website for anyone registering a child for a program at the WYC.
"You cannot register without being presented with an option to donate," Williams said. "[Business and Operations Manager Julie Melnick] informed me that, as of this evening, we've raised over $10,000 by adding that to our registration page. We deem that a big success."
The WYC also has planned a new fund-raiser, a golf event, from which it hopes to receive sizable donations, Williams said.
All three non-profits are seeking the same level of funding town meeting approved last spring for FY23. The youth center will ask town meeting for a grant of $77,000. The Chamber of Commerce and Community Preschool each have applied for $50,000 in funding for FY24.
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