Who pays for wastewater plant topic at Royalston Annual Town Meeting

  • Royalston Selectboard Chair Deb D'Amico welcomes voters to the town's Annual Town Meeting, which was held on The Common Saturday Morning. D'Amico is flanked by board members Chris Long and Roland Hamel. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • For the second year, Royalston's Annual Town Meeting was held under a tent on The Common. Just over 60 voters showed up to act on the 22-article warrant. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 6/28/2021 2:16:46 PM
Modified: 6/28/2021 2:16:49 PM

ROYALSTON — More than 60 registered voters showed up for Royalston’s Annual Town Meeting, which was held Saturday morning, June 26, under a large tent on The Common beneath cloudy skies and with a warm breeze blowing. Selectboard Chair Deb D’Amico encouraged attendees to fill out a survey, made available at the check-in table, which asked if voters would like to hold the annual meeting outdoors each year on a permanent basis. The first such meeting was held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, at the time this year’s Annual Town Meeting was scheduled, town officials were uncertain if any restrictions would remain in place.

There was little of a controversial nature on Saturday’s 22-article warrant. Most discussion revolved around Article 12, which asked for approval to raise and appropriate $83,000 to cover the cost of operating the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

Resident Susan Wang rose to ask a question regarding both this article, and the following article, which asked for $1,300 to cover incident costs related to the operation of the treatment plant.

“I apologize in advance if I’m missing context on this matter,” she began, “but I remember last year at one of these meetings it was said that the sewer system would be self-funded and then we ended up appropriating from the stabilization fund, and it seems we’re doing that again this year.

“I just think that not everyone has the opportunity to use the sewer system. For the people who are in the more spread-out areas, we have to backstop our own septic systems. But then we’re also backstopping the sewage systems of people — of a sewage system we can’t use. This is very different from schools or libraries, where everyone has the option to use them or choose not to use them.”

Roland Hamel, a member of the Selectboard, which also serves as the town’s Sewer Commission, replied, “First of all, the federal government’s take on that is that the whole town is responsible for it, not just the users. The users do pay for the cost of everything we need for operations. But the town is responsible, because it is town equipment, for the maintenance of the pumping stations and the pumps and things.

“We had a lot of costs last year and the year before because things were failing due to lack of maintenance. We were able to correct that and, thankfully, the townspeople voted to give us extra money for the cost to do all those repairs.”

Hamel then addressed the need for taxpayers to bear a share of the cost of the plant.

“As far as being fair for the whole town,” he continued, “it is the whole town’s responsibility because it is the town’s facility and, where you and I don’t actually use it, we do have a responsibility to it.

“If we don’t cover these costs, what will happen is we’ll get fined by the federal government or the state — the EPA or DEP — and the whole town will have to pay the fine. It’s a tough situation but it is the best we can do.”

Phil Leger, chair of the Board of Health, rose to say, “As citizens of Royalston, we have a moral responsibility as responsible Americans to ensure that everyone in our town has clean water without regard as to whether they live in South Royalston or not. We all live here, we all pay taxes, it’s our responsibility. We own the problem — all of us do. So, we need to make sure everybody in town enjoys the purity of the water that I enjoy every day.”

Resident Gary Winitzer wanted to know why the sum of money sought for operations increased by approximately $13,000, from $70,00 last year to $83,000 for FY22.

D’Amico explained that the intergovernmental agreement that Royalston signed for the town of Athol to operate the plant only covered a portion of FY21, whereas the amount sought Saturday was to cover the entirety of FY22. She also said that the agreement with Athol is actually saving the town money, noting that bids sought last year from private contractors to operate the treatment plant came in well over $100,000. Royalston, she said, was getting a “good deal” through its agreement with Athol.

The article seeking the appropriation passed unanimously.

Two articles designed to help with the revitalization of Royalston South Village were also approved, with little opposition. The first provides $5,500 to complete the rail project for the recently dedicated South Royalston Gazebo. The second provides $9,500 for the purchase of the parcel of land that once housed Pete & Henry’s Restaurant, which was destroyed by fire about three years ago. The Royalston South Village Revitalization Committee hopes to use the site to provide a comfort station and other amenities for visitors to Royalston.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com

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