CHINA — Selectmen have reversed course on a pay-per-bag trash disposal program, which will go to referendum next year instead of beginning a trial run in June.

A program that would require residents to buy specific bags to dispose of their garbage at the town transfer station was scheduled to begin in June after approval by selectmen, in a split vote late last year.

A referendum on whether to make the program permanent was to be held in November.

The program’s aim — as with similar programs across the state — was be to improve recycling rates, lower transfer station costs and make sure people pay a fair share for waste disposal, selectmen supporting the program said at the time.

But that plan met with opposition from residents and concern from some selectmen that elected officials had exceeded their authority by adopting the program without voters’ approval.

At a special Board of Selectmen meeting last week, a majority agreed to rescind the previous vote, canceling the trial period and the November vote.

Instead, the board has directed the town’s transfer station committee to research the pay-per-bag proposal and look into other options to save money on solid waste disposal. A referendum on the program probably will be presented to voters in 2017.

On Friday, board Chairman Robert MacFarland said he was opposed to adopting the program because the town’s solid waste flow control ordinance did not give the board the authority to implement new transfer station programs, only raise fees or change operating hours.

“I didn’t think we had the authority to do it without going to the voters,” MacFarland said.

Joining him to rescind the program were board members Ron Breton, who also opposed the proposal; and Irene Belanger, who originally voted to implement it. Belanger did not respond immediately to an interview request Friday.

Breton on Friday said he was not convinced that the board and residents had enough information on the program before moving ahead with it.

At a public meeting in January, selectmen and representatives from WasteZero, the company contracted to run the pay-per-bag program, did not seem prepared to answer questions residents had about the program, Breton said.

“Personally, I was disappointed they didn’t have the information residents were looking for,” Breton said.

“We decided we weren’t ready to introduce this to the town and try to sell it to them,” he said. “We did not want to force it down their throat.”

Although the board signed a contract with WasteZero to provide educational materials and facilitate public meetings, Breton said the company has agreed to wait until the town is ready to complete the contract obligations, Breton added. Two planned public meetings on the program have been canceled.

Residents at the program information session last month questioned the details of a proposed rebate program to dole out revenue from bag sales to full-time residents and how much the system would cost people in China. People also were concerned that forcing people to pay for bags would lead to illegal dumping.

The rebate program, proposed by Selectman Neil Farrington, would have returned the town’s revenue from the sale of trash bags back to full-time, property-owning residents, but not to renters or seasonal residents.

“That’s why I was opposed to it in the first place, because I think (if) you are going to have a rebate program, it should be open to everyone,” Breton said.

Farrington on Friday said he advocated for the pay-per-bag program because it would bring fairness to solid waste disposal. Residents with large families, such as his own, that generate a lot of waste would pay more, while people living in smaller households would pay less.

Farrington said opposition to the pay-per-bag proposal had a personal tone and it made him decide not to push the issue.

“That’s why I kind of backed off. I’m going to go with the flow,” he said.

Farrington and Selectman Joann Austin voted against rescinding the vote for the trial program.

For some residents, selectmen’s decision to abandon the program this year comes as welcome news, while others are upset that selectmen put the brakes on the program.

Paul MacDonald, a former selectman, said Friday that he was disappointed the board voted to cancel the referendum in November. In a presidential year, the general election is the best way to get the most residents to weigh in on the program, he said. The transfer station committee should have enough time between now and November to collect information, he added.

“I just want people to have a fair chance to vote on it,” MacDonald said. “I want the most people to be able to voice their opinion.”

But for others, the board’s decision to back off the program is a relief.

“It seemed like they were rushing it,” said Jeff LaVerdiere, a resident and business owner who said he is concerned that adopting a pay-per-bag model will mean more trash dumped on roadsides and private lots.

“They weren’t ready. They were trying to go with something that wasn’t thought out,” he said, adding that he wants to see what other options town officials present.

“It if looks like a good program and it is going to save money for the town and not have a negative impact for citizens, I’ll be in favor of it,” LaVeridere said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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