An upgrade to Petersburg’s curbside recycling program got its first approval by the borough assembly Monday, but just barely. Assembly members were concerned with one-time purchases of new collection carts and a truck but agreed to advance the purchases at least until next month.

Petersburg has been contracting with a private company for the weekly curbside pickup of recyclable materials in blue plastic bags. However, borough staff have proposed taking on that service and providing new collection carts, instead of the blue bags.
Wes Davis of Ruger’s Trucking has the $85,200 annual contract for collection. “I think we need to give the blue bag program another 1 or 2 years, lets keep her the same,” Davis told the assembly. “Let’s build up to at least 30 percent and look at it again.”

That 30 percent is a 2017 borough goal for the program for the amount of recyclables being diverted from garbage shipments. Last year that rate was around 16 percent factoring in curbside collection and baler deliveries. Davis noted that his company picked up cardboard from businesses, junk mail from the post office and other material from cruise ships in the summer. He didn’t think the switch to borough collection and end to his contract made financial sense for the local government.

To make the change, borough staff has proposed spending 75-thousand dollars for new collection containers for residential customers, and a 210-thousand dollar side-loading truck for the recyclable materials, and those budget changes are up for approval this winter. Public works director Karl Hagerman writes that having the borough take over collection will save the department about 66,000 dollars a year and the up-front costs will be repaid in four and a half years. If the borough takes over collection, the bailer facility would not open weekday mornings but Hagerman said his staff could take over the service.

“The closing the bailer in the morning is something we’ll have to do so that we can use our current staff to get around,” Hagerman said. “But we currently use that same amount of time to pick up every garbage route with a similar truck or trucks. So I think we can easily pick up the recycling carts on the routes that we need to pick up in that same time period as well as visit the other sites and collection cardboard and other commodities that we currently have Rugers picking up.”

Another ongoing cost for the current program is the 25,000 dollars a year the borough expects to pay for those blue bags.

Borough assembly member Bob Lynn did not want to pay the up-front costs given possible loss of Federal and state payments. “I don’t think we should be spending 300-thousand dollars, when we see the Secure Rural (Schools) funds money not coming forward, maybe not coming forward, we see a reduction in state revenue sharing coming to the borough, I also think after reading all the comments from the people, I think another year continuing as we were with the contractor would serve us to help get more knowledge out there and to get a better system.”

Mayor Mark Jensen and assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter had concerns over the new purchases but said they’d vote for the budget changes in first reading at least.

Cindi Lagoudakis supported the recycling purchase. “When we look at the cost of buying the new vehicle and switching to the carts, we would recoup those costs in a few years time, while the bags and the contracts are ongoing costs,” Lagoudakis said. “I don’t think it will be that difficult to shift the hours at the bailer. The big change in cost there would be covering sick leave and vacation time if people were out to shift folks at the bailing facility to cover those additional hours. So I will be voting yes on this.”

The vote was 4-3 to approve the recycling purchases in first reading with Lagoudakis, Wohlhueter, Jensen and Strand supporting it. It needs two more approvals next month before staff has the green light to make the change.