ADDISON — Breaking up is hard to do. So found Pleasant River Solid Waste Disposal District board members Monday night as they grappled with legal and financial questions surrounding the possible departure of two member towns.
At its June 10 meeting, the board postponed formal action on the withdrawal of Jonesport and Columbia Falls from the six-member district which also includes Columbia, Beals, Addison and Jonesboro. At issue were the state’s legal requirements for withdrawal from the interlocal agreement that governs the disposal district, said District Manager Fran Havey.
“Certain things have to happen before you can leave,” she said.
Representatives of the district, Jonesport and Columbia Falls said they want to ensure the withdrawal process is done correctly.
“I don’t think the district holds any animosity toward these two towns,” said district board member Chris Chartrand.
The first step required by state law is for a municipality to request to withdraw, which the district must then approve, said Havey.
State law also requires a withdrawing municipality to pay its share of any long-term debts incurred by the district while the municipality was a member. For five years, a withdrawing town must also pay the per-ton disposal fee for the trash it would have sent to the district had it remained a member.
Harry Fish Jr., who represents Jonesport on the disposal district board, said his town has been clear since March about its intentions to withdraw from the district as of the end of June.
“We are working on a withdrawal agreement document. But it’s not ready yet because we are missing some critical numbers,” said Fish, who is also a Jonesport selectman.
Havey said the district cannot provide figures for Jonesport’s — or Columbia Falls’ — share of debt or the cost of lost tonnage until an audit, now underway, is completed. She said she did not have a time estimate for the audit’s completion.
“I have said since March, and I continue to say, I cannot and will not get that [figure] until I get the number from the audit,” she said.
Chartrand said the withdrawal of member towns will significantly change how the district operates and, therefore, its finances.
“All we can do is make our best guess,” he said. “To give you some arbitrary number” regarding the withdrawal costs “makes no sense.”
Havey said state law also requires a withdrawing town’s residents to approve the withdrawal by a two-thirds majority vote. Jonesport met that requirement, she said.
At its March 11 Town Meeting, Jonesport residents voted against a warrant article that would have authorized the selectmen to execute another interlocal agreement in order to remain a part of the district. That vote was 16-52, said Tonia Merchant, who serves as town clerk, treasurer and registrar of voters.
In Columbia Falls, however, the vote at Town Meeting to withdraw was 43-35, which is less than two thirds, said Havey.
Columbia Falls Selectman Tony Santiago, who also attended the meeting Monday, said a passage of the state law not quoted by Havey allows a member town to withdraw the same way it entered the district.
“Withdrawal by a municipality may be accomplished … in the same manner as the decision to join in the formation of the district,” reads Section 1728 of the Maine Refuse Disposal Enabling Act.
Columbia Falls was among the founders of the district, then called the Refuse Disposal Area, in 1993, he said. The town voted by warrant article to authorize the selectmen to enter an interlocal agreement forming the district at Town Meeting that year.
Attorney Kate Grossman, who is representing both Columbia Falls and Jonesport through the withdrawal process, said she does not think the two-thirds requirement applies.
Fish also said he wanted a legal opinion on whether he and Grace Falzarano, board representative from Columbia Falls, should vote on matters regarding withdrawal.
“What if I don’t vote but I should have?” he said. “I don’t want to discover after the fact that all six members need to participate in the vote.”
Chartrand agreed. “What’s the harm in us waiting?” he said. “I think both towns have made their positions clear.
“It’s all a mess,” he said. “Let’s not make it a larger mess.”