Curbside recycling could face public vote here By:David Lias
Plain Talk By David Lias Plain Talk The dream of many Vermillion citizens to one day have curbside recycling offered within the city appears close to reality. But concerns have been voiced that the city would be shouldering too much of the burden for the proposed operation that was approved on second reading April 21 by the Vermillion City Council. Leo Backhaus, a former city alderman, made it known that he may circulate petitions to refer the matter to a public vote. The city council's action comes after aldermen reviewed the results of a survey conducted in Vermillion by the USD Government Research Bureau. The results of the survey were positive, both in the number that were returned, and in the number of residents expressing a desire for curbside recycling, even to the point of being willing to pay for such a service. City staff has been busy ever since working to design a curbside recycling program that is both affordable and also provides quality service to households. One of the challenges in formulating this plan has been to establish a way to separate operational costs for curbside recycling from the joint powers operation that manages the landfill shared by Yankton and Vermillion while placing the revenue received from the sale of the recyclables back into the coffers of the joint powers operation. Vermillion submitted a proposal to the joint powers board to establish a base level tonnage of recyclables utilizing 2007 collections. The proposal has 40 percent of the recycling revenue received from the sale of recycling materials above the base tonnage going to Vermillion to offset the operating costs of the weekly residential curbside collection. This new recycling service is being made possible in Vermillion thanks to a grant/loan package from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that will help offset the costs of needed equipment. The recycling program will need to generate enough income for Vermillion to pay back the low-interest loan. Vermillion residents will be charged a monthly fee to help cover both fixed and operating costs of the program. City Manager John Prescott, in a memo to city aldermen, noted that city staff is working to develop multiple income streams to help fund the program due to the unpredictability of the recycling market and fixed costs, such as fuel. The initial monthly fee for homeowners is anticipated to be $3.30 plus applicable sales tax. "The package is a $35,000 grant and a $175,000 loan at 2.5 percent interest for seven years," said Phyllis Packard, Vermillion's solid waste director. "It would cover the costs of curb sorter trucks, pickup, hydraulic dump trailer, the school trailer, and contingencies and other equipment needed for a total of $210,000." Packard noted that the curb sorter truck will feature seven separate sections, with each holding a different recyclable material routinely collected by the city. "We will be describing and educating all households with excessive education the proper way to sort their recyclables once the curbside program is launched," Packard said. Her research shows that Yankton, Mitchell and Brookings currently have curbside recycling, and the average charge in those communities for the curbside service is between $3 and $3.25 monthly. "And the current value of all the (recyclable) materials that we're currently collecting are at their all-time average high," she said. "Our current value for materials is very strong and has been consistently strong for the last two years." Newspaper and corrugated cardboard is averaging approximately $110 per ton. Recycled plastic is currently fetching about $300 per ton, and recycled tin can be sold for $150 to $200 per ton. "The price of aluminum is approximately $1,500 per ton, which is why we can pay for that material," Packard said. "So all the materials that we do collect have very strong selling markets." Backhaus told the council he opposes the recycling ordinance. He produced a document that he said indicates Vermillion is currently doing an excellent job of recycling. He added that he believes in recycling material rather than throwing it away; Backhaus said he has been an active recycler for 15 years. "But it looks like the rest of our neighbors from the other two (adjoining) counties, plus our rural neighbors, are not holding up their fair share," he said. Backhaus said if he was interpreting the figures in the city's recycling report correctly, Vermillion is recycling far more than Yankton. "It looks to me like Vermillion residents are paying their share right now," he said, "so I think rather than starting a new thing that's going to be costing the residents of the city of Vermillion some more tax, I think you need to take another look at this, because I don't think it's right or fair." Backhaus said he believes there is plenty of opposition to the curbside recycling ordinance. "It just hasn't shown up yet," he said. "If you do go ahead and pass this, I'd like to see that it comes to a vote of the citizens of the city of Vermillion. I'm almost sure they (the people) are going to vote it down. I don't know why we should be penalized here in Vermillion for what other communities are not doing, and evidently they are not doing their share." Packard noted that the landfill and the recycling center are operated under the joint powers agreement between Vermillion, Yankton and Clay and Yankton counties. "We do not have control over what those other communities do as far as their recycling," she said. "In the joint powers agreement, it is expressly stated that collection of garbage and recycling are not part of the joint powers. The funds that are in the joint powers are not available for collection." Yankton's curbside recycling program, she said, doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of the joint powers. "It is not anything under my power," Packard said. "As such, the proposal that we've put forward for the community of Vermillion is a hauling service for the citizens of Vermillion. It is a completely separate entity within the city of Vermillion government operation."