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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Will Merrimack’s ‘Pay to Throw’ be trashed?

MERRIMACK – After months of debate, Merrimack residents will weigh in today on whether to trash the town’s new waste disposal plan.

Police and fire staffing questions top a crowded list of warrant articles to go before voters at today’s elections, but the Town Council’s proposed “Pay As You Throw” trash plan has dominated the debate.

Citing cost savings and environmental benefits, councilors added the plan to their budget proposal in February, late in their deliberations.

“You’re going to have more environmentally conscious people ... and the fact is it’s going to save us money now,” Councilor David Yakuboff said at the time.

The decision drew strong criticism from opponents who see the plan as a double tax, adding to the tax dollars they already pay to fund the transfer station.

“(Under ‘Pay As You Throw’) I’m paying the same bill, and now I have to pay for my bags, too,” Dave McCray, a former town councilor, said this winter, speaking in opposition to the plan. “Instead of taking it from my left pocket, they’re taking it from my right pocket.”

Residents will vote today on a petitioned article proposing to repeal “Pay As You Throw,” which would charge residents for bags used to dispose of trash and add $600,000 in projected savings back into the town spending plan.

If the question passes, the Town Council will have the authority to determine where to apply the added costs.

Among other matters on the ballot, town voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on police and fire department staffing.

Looking to limit town spending, town officials cut two full-time firefighters and a police officer, among other positions, from their 2011-12 budget proposal, which is about $60,000 less than the current year’s spending plan.

Some residents, concerned over public safety, are proposing to restore money for the positions through a pair of petitioned warrant articles.

One proposal, to restore funding for the firefighters, would add $155,000 back into the town budget, while the other would restore $86,000 to cover the police officer position.

If voters decide to add the money, the council will have the final say over how it is spent.

“No one’s proposing to add people. We’re trying to keep this at the existing (staffing) level, which is lower than it should be,” Dan O’Donnell, a town resident, told residents at last month’s Deliberative Session. “I hope everyone supports this.”

In addition to staffing, voters could equip the Fire Department with a new station, deciding on a $2.5 million proposal for a new building for the south side of town.

The station, which would be constructed off Continental Boulevard, would replace the current Naticook Road building, which has grown undersized and outdated, according to Fire Chief Michael Currier.

Developers of the Merrimack Premium Outlets mall have committed about $650,000 to the project, leaving taxpayers to cover $1.9 million of the costs.

Other warrant articles to go before voters include:

A $29.2 million budget proposal, about $60,000 below the current budget.

A $4.2 million request for further upgrades and installations at the town’s wastewater treatment plant

A proposal to eliminate from the town charter the condition that the town manager lives in Merrimack.

Two seats on the Merrimack Town Council are up for grabs, as well, with incumbent Councilor Finlay Rothhaus facing off against newcomers Bill Boyd, Tom Lynam and Kerri Snell.

Within the Merrimack School District, voters will decide on a $65.3 million budget proposal, as well as a new two-year contract for the district’s teachers union.

Voters will also decide on a proposal for up to $200,000 in initial funding for a new central office building. If voters approve the question, School Board members could return next year asking for full funding for the $1.8 million administrative building, which would eventually be built next to Merrimack High School on McElwain Street.

A contested race for the Merrimack School Board pits incumbent Roy Swonger against former board member George Markwell.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.