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Amidst opposition, assembly approves recycling changes


Mary Koppes / Petersburg Pilot

Angela Davis (left, center) and Wes Davis of Rugers Trucking and a packed house of Petersburg residents showed up to Monday's assembly meeting to give public comment on proposed changes to the borough's recycling program. The changes were approved 5-2 by the assembly.

The borough will transition to a cart-based, in-house recycling program. The assembly passed an ordinance 5-2 at Monday's meeting that budgets for the switch. Sixteen residents spoke on the issue-the vast majority of who were in favor of keeping the current system-as part of an extended comment period before the vote.

Many speaking against the changes to the blue bag program cited their satisfaction with the current collection system.

"I think Ruger and PIA (recycling contractors) did a good job and I think they're doing a good job. And I don't see any reason of changing it," Petersburg resident Wes Abbott told the assembly.

Others said they did not want to see the loss of private-sector jobs associated with the contract.

"I hate to see the public sector take over something that's working and is in the hands of the private sector," said resident Jake Wilkinson.

Ruger's Trucking holds the current collection contract valued at $85,200 a year. Co-owner Angela Davis spoke against the changes and said she'd been talking with community members about other changes to the program that would decrease its cost.

"One of the most common responses was to have households purchase their own bags," Davis said.

Though the blue bags cost the Borough $25,000 a year, Public Works Director Karl Hagerman has said the biggest cost of the program is the collection contract, and bringing the program in-house and using existing staff eliminates that expense. He projects that moving to the cart-based system will save the department $66,000 a year.

It also allows the department to start building the reserves of the sanitation fund, which are currently just over $300,000, about half of the department's reserve goal of $624,000.

Before casting his vote in favor of the changes, Mayor Mark Jensen pointed to those figures: "If the borough transitions to the recycling cart system the sanitation department will build up reserves to over $500,000 by fiscal year 2020. If the borough continues to use the bag system and contracted costs remain the same, the sanitation department will only have approximately $156,000 in reserves by 2020."

If the assembly had decided to stay with the current blue bag system, Hagerman said sanitation customers would see a nine percent increase in their rates in order for the department to meet its required reserves.

In interviews following the meeting, several assembly members said their votes ultimately came down to finances.

"The bottom line is the financial aspect of it," said assembly member Cindi Lagoudakis. "I hope that folks understand that the vote was not a reflection on how we felt about Rugers operation. We heard loud and clearly that people want to have efficient government and that's what we're trying to do."

Assembly member John Havrilek also pointed to finances: "This showed it was going to be less expensive over the long-haul and I'm always pushing to spend less money. So it was totally financial."

Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor echoed these sentiments. "It's hard making an unpopular decision, but I really felt even though it was unpopular, it was the right move for the long-term financial health of the department," he said.

Though Hagerman has said he is confident that the changes will not require additional staff, Jensen and assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter-who voted against the changes, along with member Bob Lynn-expressed concerns on the matter.

"I'm still concerned about this program in the future maybe needing another employee," Jensen said. Wohlhueter voiced concerns that Hagerman's projections about the time it would take current staff to run the recycling collection route were underestimated.

"I have more questions than I have answers for right now," Wohlhueter said. "I want to look at it again next year and see where we're at and see if there is room for improvement or another alternative."

Hagerman said via e-mail that the changes could take up to six months to implement but planning for the transition will begin immediately.

"I will try to get a tentative plan worked out as soon as possible so that all of Petersburg may know the when's, what's, where's and how's of the cart based program," he said. "There is a lot of time to sort out details and field questions as the program fully takes shape."


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