Budget crunch could cut out city's curbside recycling

Budget constraints may prompt what Huntington Mayor Steve Updike terms a "temporary suspension" of curbside recycling services in Huntington.

Updike told members of the Huntington Common Council on Tuesday, July 27, that he wants to cancel the city's contract with Marion Services, the company that currently provides curbside recycling in the city.

And although City Attorney John Branham noted that the decision to cancel the contract must be made by the Board of Public Works and Safety, not the council, council members made it clear they didn't like the idea - at least not right now.

"If we stop recycling and Nature's Fuel does not come in, would we have to start all over?" asked Councilman Jack Slusser.

Slusser's concern, he explained, is that plans by Nature's Fuel - a company that has proposed building a facility at the Huntington Landfill that would convert all garbage and recycling into environmentally-friendly fuel - might not come to fruition.

If recycling is halted and the plant is never built, Slusser said, city residents would have to be educated about recycling all over again.

But Huntington Street Superintendent Dave Spencer says that many city residents have already stopped recycling.

"The recycling is dramatically down," Spencer said, since Marion Services took over curbside pickup at the first of the year.

Spencer says he could use current city employees and equipment to pick up recycling and take it to a recycling facility in Muncie "and save probably about a third" of the approximately $16,000 a month the city pays Marion Services for handling the recycling.

Updike, however, says recycling would be placed in the landfill, along with garbage, if the Marion Services contract is canceled. He wants to give Marion Services a 60-day notice that the city will end its contract as of Oct. 1.

Canceling the contract would save the city about $200,000 a year, Updike says. He needs to cut next year's city budget by $975,000, and canceling the recycling contract is one way he plans to do that.

Updike also told council he plans to propose charging city residents a garbage collection fee.

And, Updike adds, "If Nature's Fuel doesn't come in, we will have to have a discussion on a long-term solution to recycling."

Council members also discussed the proposed Etna Avenue improvement project, deciding that they needed more information about the proposal before considering it again.

Council voted in June to deny a $500,000 city match for a $2.5 million state grant to re-build a portion of the road.

Updike and Dave Schoeff, director of the city's engineering services, had proposed adding a second layer to that project. That second layer would involve improving stormwater drainage in the area to alleviate flooding along Etna Avenue.

Because the project was voted down in June, Councilman Steve McIntyre says, it can't be brought back for another vote.

Branham, however, says the council can consider the project again if changes are made and it is presented in a different form.

Schoeff says he is investigating the possibility of rehabilitating legal drains in the area instead of installing new stormwater lines, a change he says "could potentially eliminate 30 percent of the cost" of the drainage project.

Schoeff promised to get the results of his investigation into the hands of council members by the end of the week.