The Payson Town Council voted unanimously to restore funding for the recycling program at its budget meeting last Thursday.
Concerns about the program had been raised by the ad hoc non-profit budget committee comprised of councilors Dick Reese, Judy Buettner and Robert Henley, and the item had been pulled out of the latest budget proposal. In deciding to fund the program at a cost of about $26,000 for the next fiscal year, the council also agreed to study other options that might make it cheaper to operate.
Reese, who originally raised the issue, explained his concerns.
"I learned from (Public Works Director) Buzz (Walker) that the town for three years has given $26,000 a year to Waste Management to receive and dispose of our recyclable materials," Reese said. "When I asked about a reciprocal, quantifiable return of any kind on that expenditure, the response was (that) we are out of pocket that much and that we got nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing that we're participating in a recycling program."
Walker believes it's the best deal the town can get.
"When we started we used Weyerhaeuser Paper Company in Phoenix and it cost $400 (a load) to get it down there," Walker said. "They'd give so much a ton depending on what the market was. Sometimes we'd get 80 bucks and sometimes we'd get zero dollars. Waste Management ... has a policy and a goal to do recycling whenever it's efficient, so they came to us and said, ‘For $240 a trip, we'll dispose of it for you.' When we asked what we got in return, they said, ‘Nothing, because we're going to take it up to the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District to their compost facility and they will turn it into marketable products, which is as viable a recycling program as you can get.' We said, ‘Hey, that's fine, because at least it's fairly predictable what the costs are going to be.'"
Reese says he's not comfortable with the fact that the town gets nothing in return.
"Waste Management is receiving recyclables and ... converts them to compost, and, I assume, after that processing captures a benefit of some kind ... selling the product of that effort," Reese said. "I just can't reconcile our participating in this on an ongoing basis without knowing if there is an offset to at least achieve parity."
The $26,000 annual cost of the program is actually misleading, Walker told the council on Thursday. "Over the last five years in the development of the recycling program, the town has received from the state of Arizona approximately $100,000 in grants, cash and equipment to put the program in place and to conduct two special event collection days, one for hazardous wastes and one for electronic equipment," he said. "If you look at the costs we've put out to date, it's probably $50,000, so were still $50,000 to the good."
Both Walker and Reese believe there are other issues and aspects that need to be taken into consideration. There were times, for example, when Weyerhaeuser was disposing of the recyclables that an entire load would be rejected.
Perhaps most important to Walker is the credibility the town would lose and the cost of restarting the program once it's discontinued.
"It's a thing that has a little inertia," he said. "Once you turn it off, I have to pay to have the six bins moved somewhere, I have to store them somewhere, and we end a relationship with the Pinetop Sanitary District and Waste Management that has been flawless. A month later if there is an outcry and I want to restore it, I have to pay probably another thousand bucks to get the bins repositioned, I have to go back to the Payson Sanitary District and Waste Management and say, ‘This time we really, really mean it,' and we would also be telling that to the public. You just burn a lot of bridges."
Another consideration, Reese pointed out, is the effect discontinuing the program would have on Buckhead Mesa Landfill.
Town Manager Fred Carpenter promised to put together "a comprehensive analysis of all the options" in a study session format for the council's consideration.