Letter to the editor: ‘Marblehead taxpayers are paying for other towns to use transfer station’

The frustration of Marblehead residents over our financial situation has been evident over the past few years. It has also been clear that the town does not trust leadership’s budgeting/spending with the rejection of the general overrides on the two most recent ballots.  I’ll openly say that I voted “No” with the majority both years. I believe every department and board needs to take a closer look at how they are spending money to get these budgets back in order and regain the trust of the residents. I also think the Health Department, for which I am the newest board member of, has played a large role in this lack of trust. 

During this year’s State of the Town meeting when residents spoke up against the overrides, several times the money given to fund the Transfer Station project (which is still not completed) was referenced as a reason to vote “No.” I can’t say I blame anyone as no acceptable explanation on “what happened to the money” has been given.

You’ll notice though that I titled this letter saying we are “paying for neighboring towns to use our transfer station,” which I’ll get to but first I’ll try to explain to the best of my ability how the finances of our transfer station work. Let’s start with our costs. We are allotted a certain tonnage of trash that can be taken in trailers from the pit annually. We pay for trash/recycling curbside pickup and disposal. We pay to have the yard waste mulched/composted and eventually hauled out as the majority of it isn’t used in town. Until recently we were being paid for our glass, plastic, paper and cardboard recyclables in the giant bins past the pit but now we have to pay to have those items removed. This last one is a HUGE swing from profit to cost. All these costs are expected to increase in coming years as we run low on landfill space in Massachusetts and the cost of recycling increases. 

So where do we make money? We make the bulk of our money from the “weigh and pay” setup where waste is dumped in the pit. Recently we started taking a major hit to our revenue here with the state cracking down on the disposal of construction and demo materials and our transfer station not having a sorting floor for these materials, but that’s an issue we can address at a later time. The revenue from “weigh and pay” goes into the transfer station revolving fund which is used to offset some of the costs.  We also make small money off the disposal of metals, televisions, air conditioners, mattresses, etc. as well as donations to the clothing and book bins. The money from these materials gets sent to the town general fund. The transfer station is also a location where you can purchase your facility sticker for which the money is sent to the general fund. 

The cost of all the disposals FAR outweighs the money we take in and so the town budgets money annually from the general fund to cover those costs. Essentially, you’re paying the remaining disposal costs out of your taxes as a Marblehead resident. So since almost everything past the pit comes with the disposal cost, it’s prudent to not spend more than we have to by ONLY allowing Marblehead residents to dispose of trash, recyclables and yard waste in this area. We identify the Marblehead residents with stickers that are attached to the driver’s side bumper of your car. This allows the hard-working employees at the transfer station to multi-task by doing their daily work and be able to glance at cars to see whether they belong or not. 

The problem is that we have a dramatic increase in residents who feel this rule shouldn’t apply to them and ask the workers for favors with the “Hey, you know me” or demand to be exempt from the rules with the “Do you know who I am?!?!?!” lines. 

There can’t be two sets of rules for residents regarding stickers because it comes with a major cost. The rules specifically state that there are no exceptions to a sticker being on a car’s bumper. Also, it’s a sticker not a pass. This means it’s supposed to be stuck on your car and not resting in your glove box. The workers can only take so much grief from people that feel like the rules shouldn’t apply to them before they just stop enforcing all together. This just spirals to others saying, “Well, if they don’t need a sticker then neither do I.” And I don’t blame the workers at all for this. 

 So what’s the cost of this? Well, we sold $91,000 less in stickers in 2022 than we did in 2021 to start.  But also, any time someone from out of town comes to use our transfer station, because they know we aren’t checking for stickers, we ALL have to pay through the general fund for their trash, recyclables and yard waste to be hauled out. And they definitely are coming. Our neighboring towns don’t have a facility like ours and are happy to make the drive as I noticed from campaigning outside the transfer station the past two years.

This is by no means a way to shift blame from the Health Department’s failures with town finances to the Marblehead residents. I’m hoping this will serve as a way for residents to understand that if we don’t all follow the rules in this area then it comes with a cost to the town. It drains money from the general fund which would otherwise be used to pay for schools, firefighters, police officers, road repairs, park improvements, etc.  So please, if you aren’t doing your part by following the rules just make the change and put that sticker on your car because it’s not only unfair and disrespectful to the workers at the transfer station but it’s also costing you and the town more money than you probably thought.

I have several ideas and initiatives for cost saving and revenue sourcing that I will be working to implement for the benefit of Marblehead residents. The sticker issue is the first and an easy fix.  If you have suggestions or questions regarding this please feel free to participate in the public comment portion of the Board of Health meetings.  Next meeting is August 7, 7:30 p.m. You can attend in person at the Lower Level Conference Room in the Mary Alley Municipal Building or via Zoom.

Tom McMahon
Gregory Street

Letter to the editor
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