Proposed rate structure for curbside recycling wins approval by city council

A proposed rate structure for curbside recycling in the city of Huntington, which brought a crowd of residents to the Huntington Common Council's meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12, ultimately won initial approval by the council.

Establishing the fees, which must still receive a second and final OK from the council, is just the first step in re-establishing a city-wide recycling program, city attorney Mike Hartburg said. Once the program is funded, city officials will still have to work out specifics, he explained.

Those specifics include deciding who, other than residential city utility customers, would qualify to participate and if the current drop-off recycling site would be retained, Mayor Brooks Fetters said.

Business owner Rebecca Hanson asked council members to retain the drop-off site, which she uses to recycle glass bottles and cardboard from her business.

“Don't do away with what we already have,” Hanson said.

Resident Bonnie Jones said she's a strong supporter of recycling, but wants the council to find a way to do it without implementing new fees.

“Think of another way so we don't have to foot the bill for it,” she urged the council. She wondered if there was any money to be made by selling the recyclables.

Fetters said that was the model during the first round of city-wide recycling. The city paid Pathfinder Services $200,000 a year to process the recyclables, and Pathfinder made money by selling the items to a recycling company. Pathfinder pulled out in 2008 when the bottom fell out of the recycling market, Fetters said, and the agency could no longer make a profit.

“I think the days of getting rebates on recycling have passed us by,” Fetters said.

Several speakers say they'd have no problem paying for curbside recycling.

Resident Anthony Lisinicchia suggested that Huntington follow an example set by other cities, which provide curbside recycling free but charge additional fees for picking up trash — providing residents with an incentive to recycle as much as possible.

Councilman Charles Chapman said he liked the idea of using some sort of incentive to encourage residents to recycle as much as possible.

“I'm fearful that not enough people in Huntington are that conscientious,” Chapman said.

Curbside recycling was proposed as a way of extending the life of the city's landfill beyond its projected five or so years, a number that Anthony Goodnight, the city's director of engineering services and public works, says is constantly changing.

The landfill's largest customer recently stopped dumping trash there, Goodnight said, and that has made a major impact on the rate at which the landfill is filling up. But, he added, that customer could begin dumping again at any time.

“If the waste values change, that number goes up or down,” Goodnight said.

In the end, the council unanimously approved the recycling fees on first reading.

Fees would start at $5 a month in October and increase slightly each year of the five-year contract with Republic Services, reaching $5.57 in the fifth year.

Each residential city utility customer would receive a container for recyclables, which would be picked up bi-weekly. All recyclables would be placed in one container.

Following the discussion of recycling fees, council members launched into a lengthy examination of the city's proposed budget for 2018.

The spending plan presented by Clerk-Treasurer Christi McElhaney showed a budget of just more than $13.1 million, up about $373,000 from the $12.7 million city budget for 2018. That number will drop, however, once McElhaney removes line items for employee bonuses. Removing the bonuses was the only change council members made in the budget proposal.

The numbers for 2018 reflect a 3 percent pay increase for most city employees along with a drop in insurance costs. Some of the savings on insurance will be used to institute a safety incentive program for employees.

The budget also reflects the planned expansion of the Board of Public Works and Safety from three members to five, the addition of a police officer and the creation of several part time and internship positions.

A public hearing and the first vote on the budget will be held during the council's next meeting, Sept. 26 at 6:45 a.m. Adoption of the budget is set to take place at the 7 p.m. meeting on Oct. 10.