Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Budget ills may trash Toledo curbside recycling

With a $27.7 million deficit, Toledo is looking to slash costs, and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has made it clear that nothing is immune from the chopping block.

Many city employees who have avoided layoffs are being paid less, the grass probably will grow higher in city parks, and all but one public pool will be closed this summer. The latest casualties of the budget crunch are 75 police officers slated to be laid off May 1.

The city also could save more than $1 million in labor costs alone by doing away with its eight-year-old curbside recycling program - a possibility Lucas County officials are carefully watching.

"There would be concern about that since we have to put together a solid-waste plan for the state," said Lucas County Commission President Pete Gerken. "Part of us being in compliance with the last plan was that there would be curbside recycling in the city of Toledo."

Aside from environmental benefits, recycling has benefits for the city, including saving space in its Hoffman Road landfill.

But it is taking a greater toll on Toledo's budget.

Toledo City Council is to vote Tuesday on a proposal to spend $40,000 from the city's solid waste trust fund to have Fondessy Enterprises Inc., temporarily process recyclable materials collected curbside across the city.

Casey Stephens, commissioner of public service, said the city formerly made $15 a ton on recyclable materials, but market changes are forcing the city to spend as much as $45 a ton just to have it processed.

"In October or November we started to receive invoices for recycling, and depending on the tonnage that was shipped, it would vary, but it was roughly $15,000 per month," Mr. Stephens said.

Mr. Stephens said the city could legally end its recycling program, but not without consequences.

"It would put the Lucas County Solid Waste District in a bind," he said.

Mr. Finkbeiner on Friday would not specifically say whether eliminating curbside recycling would be part of the budget-balancing plan he is expected to release tomorrow.

"Everything has to be on the table when you have got a $27.7 million hole in your budget," the mayor said.

He also said the city's recycling program is "guided in some significant part by agreements made with the county."

Mr. Gerken - who, as a Toledo councilman in 1998, introduced legislation that committed the city to expanding its curbside program - said he expects to meet this week with city officials about the program's viability.

"I understand, as part of their budget woes, they are looking at that," Mr. Gerken said. "They need to find a way to live up to the obligation they made to us and the state."

As part of their agreement, Mr. Gerken said the county agreed to waive $1 a ton for the "tipping fee" collected from the city by the county's solid waste management district.

"When the city agreed to go to curbside recycling we took a dollar off of the tipping fee and it's been a good value for both of us," Mr. Gerken said.

The fee is charged at the city-owned Hoffman Road Landfill by the solid waste management district as the state permit holder, Mr. Gerken said.

Toledo was slow to start picking up recyclables for its residents.

In Lucas County, curbside recycling was provided in the cities of Maumee, Oregon, and Sylvania; in the villages of Holland, Ottawa Hills, Waterville, and Whitehouse, and in the township of Waterville - each before Toledo enacted its program.

Before recycling gained traction in Toledo, the city buried thousands of tons of newspapers, glass, plastic, and other finite resources in the Hoffman Road landfill - hastening the day when the dump will run out of space.

In 1993, then-City Manager Thomas Hoover signed an agreement with the county's solid waste district, committing the city to provide curbside recycling to every residence in Toledo.

Three months later, Mr. Hoover added 7,400 homes to the city's pilot curbside program, bringing the total to 19,000. That was a time when curbside recycling programs were operating in several of the suburbs but Toledo was recycling just 3 percent of its residential waste.

Five years later, curbside recycling routes still covered only one-fifth of the city.

Because of its poor performance, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 slapped a violation notice on the county's solid waste district for failing to meet residential-recycling requirements.

Troy Albright, owner of Fondessy Enterprises, said he is processing 30 tons every day of Toledoans' used bottles, cans, newspapers, and cardboard.

"The current market has improved slightly off its historical lows of December and January but we are still below averages," Mr. Albright said.

"When we process, there is a labor cost associated and when you can't sell your end product to cover your costs, then the recyclers start getting a processing fee."

The Finkbeiner administration is hoping to save more than $3 million a year in its refuse collection costs by switching to automated trucks that would handle garbage and recyclable material.

On April 14, council is expected to vote on spending $9.67 million to purchase the new refuse carts that would be needed to switch over to automated garbage pickup.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

or 419-724-6171.

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