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Ballot override, trash fee plan; Councilors cite revenue needs.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

FITCHBURG - With deep cuts to public safety looming in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget, Councilor Kevin T. Starr said yesterday he wants to see a Proposition 2-1/2 override on the fall ballot.

"I think it needs to be geared toward public safety," Mr. Starr said yesterday. "I want to see it put on the ballot. I think it's an idea all people should have input on."

Mr. Starr said he will be researching how to get such a measure on the fall ballot, which will also include local elected officials.

He's not the only councilor looking for additional revenue.

Councilor Jody M. Joseph said he is ready to submit an alternative fundraising proposal to the trash fee that his colleagues tossed out Tuesday.

"I think we're still going to be in a position to need revenues," Mr. Joseph said. "It'll be ready to go when the councilors are ready."

Mr. Joseph, who joined his colleagues in giving the fee leave to withdraw Tuesday night, said his proposal would create a "pay as you throw" system whereby residents would buy bags for 75 cents to $1.50, depending on the size. The previous plan would have also included a $100 fee per household.

Mr. Joseph said yesterday he was holding off on filing the petition, however, until he has the support of a majority of councilors. But he said he was confident he will have six votes by the time the council finishes budget deliberations.

"Nobody wants to pay extra, but what are you going to do?" Mr. Joseph said.

The $92.4 million budget now before the council would force laying off 13 police officers, eliminating nine firefighting jobs and would allow the senior center and library to remain open two days per week, among other significant cuts.

Seniors have already objected to a proposal to move the center into the library, sending a petition with more than 300 signatures earlier this week seeking the restoration of full funding to its budget.

"My priority is police and fire, but I'm not prepared to close the senior center," Mr. Joseph said.

He said he can appreciate the opposition to a trash fee and the sentiment that government needs to shrink. But, he added, he doesn't want his house to burn down because the Fire Department will be too short-staffed to answer simultaneous calls.

Councilor Thomas J. Conry Jr., who led the charge Tuesday to scrap the previous trash fee proposal, said he has only had words of praise from constituents in the days since.

"Everyone is opposed to it," he said. "Does it mean that it's right to be opposed to it? That's questionable, too."

Mr. Conry added that he's skeptical any system could be drafted and imposed in time to bring in revenue during fiscal 2010, which starts July 1.

Mayor Lisa A. Wong said a straight "pay as you throw" system would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, although not as much as the per-household fee described in the scrapped plan. She said she appreciated Mr. Joseph's efforts, however.

"I'm certainly pleased to see all conversations, all proposals, are still on the table," she said. "It's not easy to reach consensus in such tough times."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 23, 2009
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