Petersburg Pilot -

Recycling program changes narrowly advanced by assembly

 


The assembly continues to be divided on changing the current blue bag recycling program to a cart-based system that would also bring collection in-house. The ordinance containing the budget item for the sanitation department narrowly passed its second reading at Monday’s meeting with members Bob Lynn, Kurt Wohlhueter and John Havrilek opposing.

The sanitation fund is one of two enterprise funds that are not currently meeting their reserves goal. The budget policy approved by the assembly last November established that reserves should equal at least six months of operating expenses or $624,085 for the sanitation fund. Current reserves for the fund are about half that amount at $307,340.

The question now is how the department will get on track to meet their goal. Public Works Director Karl Hagerman is pushing the recycling program changes as the fastest way to meet that goal. Though the upfront capital costs of purchasing carts and a collection truck, a collective $285,000 expense, is sizable, Hagerman said it will save the department money in the long run and that they’ll start seeing those savings immediately. He estimates the borough will save $66,000 a year by purchasing the equipment and bringing collection in-house.

“Over time we’re definitely saving money by making this leap now,” Hagerman said in a phone interview.

Wohlhueter asked Hagerman if customers would see a rate increase if the assembly did not approve the switch to an in-house cart system.

“The answer is yes. Even with the large capital expense of the truck and the carts, the annual expenses of the collection contract outweigh the amortization of those capital costs,” Hagerman said.

A two percent rate increase is already on the books through 2018, but, Hagerman added, “to achieve the same levels of revenue that we need to produce reserves in the sanitation fund equal to the cart-based system, we’ll have to raise rates.”

The biggest savings of a transition to an in-house cart system will come from eliminating the $90,000 contract currently held by Ruger’s Trucking along with the recurring cost of purchasing blue bags, some $25,000 a year.

Wes Davis, owner of Ruger’s Trucking, spoke against the recycling changes for the second time in front of the assembly at Monday’s meeting.

“Besides the obvious fact that I’d like to keep my job, I still don’t believe the cart-based system is a good fit for our city right now,” he said.

Davis said the cart-based system could hinder recycling rates or cause problems down the line if people put items into the bin that are not recyclable. He also said that he believes the public does not want the change.

Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor asked if additional staff would be needed to execute the proposed program changes.

“I’m very confident after looking at the numbers and our customer load that we can get the work done with existing staff, without any additional hires and this will continue into the future,” Hagerman responded.

Mayor Mark Jensen asked if proposed changes to the hours at the bailer would negatively affect the canneries or other businesses. Under the proposal the hours at the baler would be reduced to noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays. The hours on Sunday—when the facility is most heavily utilized, with an average of 32 customers—would remain unchanged.

Hagerman said he did an audit of customer’s use of the facility which revealed an average of 12 customer visits each day, with about one-third of those being commercial customers.

“We just don’t have a very big customer load up there. So pushing a few customers to the afternoon seems worthwhile when we’re looking at saving money overall in our budget and achieving the reserve level that we need to, that’s been mandated by the assembly,” Hagerman said.

Another public hearing will be held before the third reading of the ordinance at the March 16 meeting at 7 p.m. Jensen urged people with an interest in the matter to express their views to the assembly before the final vote on the changes.

 

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