CHARLESTOWN — After donating a portion of the town’s solid waste cap to the Chariho Regional School District for the past two years, members of the Town Council voted at their Monday meeting to deny the district’s request this year.
Donna Chambers, one of Charlestown’s representatives on the School Committee, explained that the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation notified Chariho two years ago that the district would no longer qualify for municipal disposal rates. Faced with higher disposal fees, the district asked the three Chariho towns to contribute portions of their trash caps, thereby reducing the schools budget.
This year, Chariho has requested that the towns allot 340 tons each of their solid waste caps to the district, which would reduce the budget by $36,420. Richmond has agreed to contribute its 340 tons, but Hopkinton has declined, because it has a disposal contract with Westerly and no surplus cap to donate.
Councilor Bonita Van Slyke asked why Hopkinton had not contributed.
“We’ve done this for two years and in the past, Hopkinton has not contributed because they had a contract with Westerly,” she said. “My understanding is that contract with Westerly is up and they are not going to be able to contribute?”
Chambers said she understood that Hopkinton had recently signed a contract with Westerly, but Van Slyke asked why Hopkinton could not help this year.
“I don’t understand why, with this two-year notice, they’re not contributing,” she said.
“I totally agree with you,” Chambers replied. “It’s a contentious issue, but I don’t think it’s the time, during this current budget season, to be trying to figure this out, so I’m going to ask that we extend it one year.”
Council Vice President Deborah Carney said she had believed, when the first request for support was received, that it would not become an annual donation.
“It’s my recollection that two years ago, when they came, Chariho said it was going to be a one-time thing and that Hopkinton would contribute in the future,” she said. “My issue is that Hopkinton’s contract is expiring this year, and they’ve chosen to renew it … They’re looking out for their own best financial interest. I think we have to do the same for Charlestown.”
Council President Virginia Lee suggested lobbying the state legislature to reinstate the municipal trash disposal rate for Chariho.
“It does seem that the legislators ought to be rallied to stop penalizing Chariho because it’s a regional [school district], not one municipality, so they don’t get the municipal rate,” she said.
The council also denied a request from Hopkinton to add up to two agenda items to the annual Chariho Omnibus meeting. Discussion at the meeting is currently restricted to the proposed budget.
Van Slyke and councilor David Wilkinson said they preferred that the Omnibus meeting focus entirely on the schools budget, because of its size and complexity.
“I think it clouds the main issue at hand, which is actually the budget, and can go sideways pretty easily,” Wilkinson said.
The council agreed that Chariho issues unrelated to the budget could be discussed at a separate meeting.
The council considered a second request from Hopkinton to begin a statewide discussion between municipalities and school districts on increasing state aid.
Carney suggested authorizing Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero to draft a resolution in support of asking the state to increase its financial aid for education.
“Then we can discuss it at our March meeting with the actual resolution itself,” she said.
The motion unanimously passed.