standing Westerly transfer station

Entrance to the Westerly Transfer Station on Larry Hirsch Lane.

WESTERLY — The Board of Finance is recommending that members of the Town Council take a closer look at how the municipal transfer station is funded, noting steady annual increases in the facility's reliance on the town budget.

The recommendation was made in a letter from the board, signed by chairman Stephen Lynner, accompanying the transmittal of the proposed 2021-22 budgets for the three departments that are designated as enterprise funds: transfer station, Water Department and Sewer Department.

Enterprise funds are typically designated for government services that charge a fee for the service. Accounting for the funds is segregated from other municipal budget items in order to show the true cost of the service. While opinions vary, some say enterprise funds should break even or post a profit or surplus.

According to Lynner's letter, over the last four fiscal years and in the proposal for the upcoming year, the transfer station's use of general fund or annual municipal budget funds has grown from $234,336 to $488,571.

"This increase is more than a 100% rate of growth over the period. In the view of the board, this is not sustainable going forward," Lynner wrote.

The board also noted upcoming repairs and equipment replacement at the transfer station, which are projected at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million.

"The board believes the transfer station should be a priority for the town's capital planning process," Lynner wrote.

The Town Council formally accepted the budget transmittal during its May 3 meeting and is expected to review the budgets in the near future.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said the increases are partially due to improved accounting that moved some expenditures out of the municipal budget and into the transfer station budget. He pointed to employee overtime as an example.

The international fall of the recycling market has also hurt, Rooney noted. He said that town staff have ideas on how to address the finances through a reduction in transfer station hours and possibly renegotiating terms with the town of Hopkinton, which also uses the facility.

Council President Sharon Ahern said designating the transfer station as an enterprise fund might be the problem.

"This has never been truly an enterprise fund," Ahern said. "The transfer station has never been able to sustain itself. Maybe we should not call it that if we can't find a way for it to pay for itself."

Officials have disagreed at times on whether the facility should be self-sustaining or whether it should simply be treated as an amenity that relies, at least partially, on tax dollars that support the annual municipal budget.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said the financial performance of transfer station has fluctuated over time.

"The transfer station has been a thing for years. Some years it's higher, sometimes it's lower. The bottom line is people aren't going to like if the answer is we have to charge more. It's more of a philosophical discussion … it's just how do you pay for it," Cooke said.

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