Athol voters approve FY20 spending plans, limits on non-recyclable utensils

  • Voters decide the fate of one of 28 articles on Monday annual town meeting warrant.  —Greg Vine

  • Robert Schwein voices his opposition to a town-wide ban on some styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic food service ware. —Greg Vine

  • Members of Athol's Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee at Monday's annual town meeting. (l-r) Mike Butler, Gary Deyo, Michele Tontodonato, Amy Craven, Paul Nelson, Vice Chair Ben Feldman, and Chair Kenneth Duffy.  —Greg Vine

  • Pat Roix and Heidi Strickland take the podium at Monday's annualt town meeting to argue in favor of a ban on styrofoam and non-recyclable plastics for Athol food service providers.  —Greg Vine

  • Voters gathered in Memorial Hall Monday night for Athol's annual town meeting.  —Greg Vine

  • More than 100 voters gathered in Memorial Hall Monday night for Athol’s annual Town Meeting. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 6/11/2019 9:55:25 PM

ATHOL — Voters, 120 of them, to be exact, took just over an hour to dispense with a 28-article warrant at Monday’s annual Town Meeting. The only article that generated a substantial amount of debate called for a townwide ban on polystyrene (styrofoam) and other non-recyclable “food service ware.”

Before work on the warrant got under way, Athol’s Select Board honored Planning and Development Director Eric Smith with the Margaret Grazis Employee of the Year Award.

The Margaret Grazis Citizen of the Year Award was bestowed upon Dan Parsons, sergeant major with the Athol Salvation Army and Athol Fire Department chaplain.

The only item prompting any discussion relative to the proposed fiscal year 2020 general government budget of nearly $15 million was a $15,000 appropriation in the Department of Public Works budget set aside for weed treatment at Lake Ellis.

Lake Ellis Road resident Max Macphee sought to amend the DPW budget by deleting the weed-control expenditure.

“I would oppose appropriating money for weed treatment,” said Macphee. “I don’t feel it’s been effective.”

“We do recognize,” said Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, “that the last treatment, based on the reports we had, treated invasive weeds and that there’s still a problem with some native vegetation that’s there. In my view, and from what I’ve heard from other residents who still contact me about this issue, I think you should leave the appropriation in and let Public Works and the vendors work with the Lake Ellis Association to ensure we have the best treatment.”

Macphee countered that some treatment efforts, dating back to 2017, were “completely ineffective.”

“If we’re going to keep doing this,” he said, “how long are we going to keep doing this? It seems like a waste of money to me.”

Macphee’s motion was rejected by a wide margin and the $15 million general government budget overwhelmingly approved. In addition, voters approved the expenditure of just over $4.7 million as the town’s share of the Athol Royalston Regional School District’s proposed 2020 budget of about $24.7 million. The town of Royalston will chip in $617,000 toward the spending package, while the remainder will come from state Chapter 70 aid to public schools and other sources. Athol’s Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District assessment of $342,000 was also approved.

Voters also went along with the recommendations of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee to deposit just over $111,000 in the town’s Stabilization Fund, and another $259,000 in the Capital Stabilization Fund.

The motion calling for approval of a new bylaw prohibiting “the use and distribution of food service ware that is not compostable or recyclable” was made by resident Pat Roix.

“For several years,” Roix said, “we have been working really hard to really make this community a green and clean community. This is just one more small step. There’re so many things we need to do, but this is one small step. I would point out that this bylaw applies to food service ware products only; it does not prohibit the sale of other styrofoam products. It also covers only packaging for prepared foods. It does not include cutlery, straws, or packaging for raw meat or vegetables. We’re saving that for another day.”

Heidi Strickland said, “Our planet is in danger. I’m sure all of you have seen images of miles of plastic debris floating on the ocean surface. Plastic is also found at every level under the sea. Sea life has ingested much of this plastic, and many have died. Today we’re asking you, in one small way, to stop this insanity.”

Robert Schwein was among a handful of residents who argued the best way to handle the problem would be to improve Athol’s system of recycling. He pointed out that nearly all styrofoam cups are stamped with a universal recycling code, and contended recycling in Athol could be refined to handle more items while at the same time making it easier for residents to recycle.

Voters ultimately approved the measure by a wide margin.

Violators of the bylaw will receive a warning for a first offense. A second offense carries a fine of $25, and the third and each subsequent offense will cost violators $50.


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