Wednesday, July 29, 2009

County recycling dollars squeezed

Outreach budget could be cut

Express Staff Writer

During budget hearings before the Blaine County Commissioners last week, the director of the seven-county Southern Idaho Solid Waste District recommended that the county scrap the outreach budget of the district's recycling partner, the Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center.

"What could go wrong has gone wrong," Terry Schultz said in an interview. "We tried to find every way we could to cut back ... to keep the (recycling) program running. Sorting, baling and shipping are essential. Promoting is not."

Schultz said the crash in the recycling commodity market is resulting in major losses at the baler. To make ends meet, he said, the education aspect of the program should be cut.

According to Schultz, who oversees the recycling program at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station, the third quarter recycling shortfall was $86,000 and is expected to reach $110,000 to $120,000 by the end of the fourth quarter. The net loss is paid out of tipping fees at the dump. The loss in a typical year has been $35,000 to $40,000, Schultz said.

Adding to the pinch, solid waste, which is where tipping fees are accumulated, has also decreased 30 percent. Finally, just as the national value of recycled commodities has slipped, volume passing through Ohio Gulch is also down 12 percent. However, the county still has a $600,000 reserve from fees it has collected.

Craig Barry, executive director for the ERC, protested the recommendation that his organization's outreach programming not be funded. He said canning the program is contrary to the community's environmental interest even in lean economic times.

The ERC receives some $40,000 annually from the recycling center's budget to run outreach programs that inform the community about the nuts and bolts of recycling. When people are educated about recycling they recycle more and create less trash, Barry said in an interview.

"It shows the community's commitment to recycling," he said.

Barry said Blaine County recently spent $1.6 million in accumulated reserve funds to expand its recycling program. A major improvement made at the recycling center was installation of a larger baler that creates larger bales of cardboard, metal and plastic. Larger bales have a higher value in the commodities market.

Barry told the commissioners that if they consider burying the outreach program for economic reasons, then they should also consider looking at a $5,000 per annum "buy-back" program paid to contractor Clear Creek Disposal. The line item, which is still included in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget, was intended as an incentive program for contractors who help their customers do a better job of recycling at the curbside. The county has paid some $52,000 in the last four to five years for the program, which Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview would likely be cut now that it was brought to the county's attention because there is little oversight of the program.

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