Five Points Project, trash disposal on Athol Town Meeting warrant

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski met with members of the town's Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee on Tuesday, May 14.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski met with members of the town's Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee on Tuesday, May 14. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-16-2024 9:09 AM

ATHOL – The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met Tuesday evening to review the 34-article warrant which will be decided on by the voters at the June 10 Annual Town Meeting.

While the committee voted to recommend passage of 33 articles, it delayed a vote on Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s proposed $28.8 million spending package for FY25. Members wanted another week to review the budget in detail before discussing it with Suhoski.

While most items generated little discussion, some committee members had questions regarding Article 29, which asks voters to approve spending $100,000 from free cash to “augment funds previously voted to acquire land, or temporary or permanent easements” to facilitate what the Five Points Project. The project will reconfigure the intersection that includes Crescent and Bridge streets and Chestnut Hill Avenue and include infrastructure improvements on several side streets in that area.

“As you all know, the town of Athol has been working on that…Five Points Project since about 2017, just before I got here,” Public Works Director Dick Kilhart told the committee. “We’re at the point on the process where this project will advertise for bids by MassDOT on June 29 of this year. One of the last steps in that process is to have those parcels, whether they’re temporary easements or permanent easements.”

Kilhart said that there are some 47 easements in total that need to be secured for the project. He added that MassDOT sent a letter to those property owners from which the town is seeking an easement or easements.

“We’ve had six or seven property owners suggest that they would donate (the easement) back to the town,” he added. “They don’t have to, but we’ve had a handful say they would.”

Kilhart added that the contract for undertaking the $9.7 million project will likely be awarded this August, with construction set to begin next spring. The entire cost is being paid for with federal funds.

Another article drew some attention was Article 16, which establishes an FY25 budget for the town’s transfer station of just over $835,000. That figure represents an increase of nearly 44% over the current fiscal year’s budget.

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“The transfer station has been running modest deficits for a couple of years,” Suhoski explained. “What’s happened is in the last couple of years the hauling costs have skyrocketed, and we’re updating our fees and raising our fees, but it’s always a year late and a dollar short. So this fiscal year we’re in (FY24), we raised the rates earlier in the year to get ahead of it, and we are. We appear to be around break-even.”

At a Special Town Meeting to be held right before the Annual Town Meeting, Suhoski said the plan is to increase the current transfer station budget by $200,000 in order to erase the deficit resulting from the increased disposal and hauling costs.

“It will be within our revenue” he said. “Then this (FY25) budget is built on that; it resets the budget to the current contract and the projected increases in our hauling contract with WIN (Waste Innovations of North Billerica) for next year, then we’ll re-bid it for fiscal ‘26.”

The committee voted to recommend passage of the proposed FY25 budget for the public works, transfer and recycling division, along with a $1.3 million budget for the water division and a nearly $1.6 million spending package for the sewer division.

The FWAC will put the remainder of the town’s FY25 budget - $25.1 million – under a microscope next week. The meeting will be held on Thursday, May 23, 5:30 p.m. in room 21 of the town hall.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.