Refuse District Waits Beacon Hill Vote

By MANDY LOCKE

Less than three weeks before the close of the fiscal year, the Island's waste handler is anxiously awaiting legislative authorization to correct its financial missteps.

The Martha's Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District needs a half-million-dollar bond to reimburse itself for operational funds that officials funneled into mounting capital expenses over the past few years. The district headed to Beacon Hill for authorization in November - a fallback option after Edgartown, one of four member towns, couldn't gather the necessary quorum at a special town meeting called last fall to approve the bond. The legislature is also required to sign off on the district's usage of this bond - reimbursement of redirected operational revenues.

Now, twenty days before the close of the fiscal year and payment deadline for the $400,000 short-term loan secured in August to pay off overdue bills to the district's waste handler, SEMASS, legislative approval has yet to come.

"Nothing easy gets to us," said Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington. "If it were easy, it would already be done. It could be done by the end of the fiscal year, but it may not be."

The bill - stalled in the House Long Term Debt and Capital Expenditures Committee all spring - finally came out of committee in the last week. Committee chairman Rep. Marie J. Parente sent the bill to the House counsel to clarify the legislature's authority to grant approval of a bond when the refuse district's charter stipulates member towns must vote on long-term bond expenditures.

"The refuse district is made up of towns, and those towns have agreements that the district can work a certain way. One of those agreements is that you must have a town vote. Edgartown didn't have one. The question was whether state law could supersede this contract between the towns," Mr. Turkington said.

Representative Parente said last week that House counsel has now adequately addressed her concerns. But the legislator has strong words of warning for district leaders and the town of Edgartown.

"This is not good practice," Representative Parente said of the district's borrowing request.

"And I'm disappointed by the lack of energy that Edgartown had in trying to resolve the issue," she added, referring to the town's quorum problems last fall. "They need to move their bodies to do the business of the town. They have a great privilege."

Officially out of the house's long term debt committee, the bill must now go to the House Ways and Means Committee. From there, the bill must travel to the floor of the House for debate. If successful, it will then head to the Senate floor. The last step involves an okay from the governor's office. All of this needs to happen in three weeks.

"I'm obviously anxious, but I have assurances that it should move along," said Charles Noonan, refuse district manager. "As the clock ticks, I get more worried. But they tell me things move fast up there."

Mr. Noonan said the district would still need legislative approval even if all four member towns approve the $500,000 bond at their annual town meetings. The state Department of Revenue, Mr. Noonan said, required the district to secure legislative approval due to the circumstances under which the trash handler accrued its debt.

Mr. Noonan is uncertain what the district must do if the June 30 deadline comes and goes without legislative authorization.

"We'll have to continue going forward," he said.

Meanwhile, the district continues to address the financial missteps that led the district to finish fiscal year 2002 $575,000 in the red.

James Brown, an accountant hired to straighten the district's in-house bookkeeping records, reported Thursday afternoon to the district committee that he has nearly completed record revisions and updated account information. Mr. Brown is expected to give a year-end report at the district's next meeting June 26.