An upgrade for Petersburg’s curbside recycling program survived another vote by the Petersburg borough assembly Monday, again by just one vote. Borough staffers say the switch away from blue plastic bags and contracting for the collection service will save the municipality in the long run.

The borough’s program for curbside pickup of unsorted materials in blue plastic bags is entering just its second year. It was designed to make it easier for residents to save paper, cardboard, plastics and cans from the trash barrel and save the borough money for shipping waste out of town.

The contractor who’s been picking up recyclables, Wes Davis of Rugers Trucking, has been urging the borough assembly to keep the blue plastic bags and his contract. “You know beside obvious fact I’d like to keep my job, I still don’t believe the cart based system is a good fit for our city right now,” Davis told the asssembly Monday. He thought large new collection containers the borough plans to purchase would be too much of an inconvenience for customers and would stop people from participating.
The borough’s public works department director wants to end contracting for that service and have borough employees start collection. The change would require purchase of those collection containers for local households, and a new truck for the sanitation department. Those are proposed additions to the borough’s budget for the current year, totaling 285,000 dollars and are one-time up front costs. That compares to 85,000 dollars in annual costs to contract for the service and another 25,000 dollars each year for the plastic bags.

Borough assembly members have objected to the up front costs to make the change. However, public works director Karl Hagerman says the sanitation department’s bottom line will improve with the change to containers and borough collection. Hagerman said the borough would end morning hours on weekdays at the bailer, to allow a sanitation employee to collect recyclables during that time. He assured the assembly the change would not require expanding the borough’s workforce.

“It depends on of course if we do reduce the hours at the baler and landfill, eliminate the morning hours,” Hagerman said. “That frees up at least one staff member to be able to collect material with the more efficient method that is provided by an automated truck. I’m very confident after looking at the numbers and our customer load that we can get the work done with existing staff, without any additional hires. And this will continue into the future.”

Hagerman looked at baler numbers from four different weeks of the year and did not think elimination of the morning hours would be a problem. “And we’re seeing anywhere from 10-15 customers a day visiting the bailer,” he said. “That includes commercial customers. We just don’t have a very big customer load up there. So pushing a few customers to the afternoon seems worthwhile when we’re looking at saving money overall in our budget and achieving the reserve level that we need to, that’s been mandated by the assembly.”

Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter, attending the meeting by phone, wanted to have more public input and initially wanted to table the vote until the assembly’s next meeting. “I know it sounds like an increase in garbage rates is imminent but is it a greater increase if we stick with the blue bags or is it less of an increase if we go to the cans?” Wohlhueter wondered. “These are kind of some questions I think that need to be fleshed out and like you say I’d like to hear more comments.”

Garbage rates are going up two percent a year each year through 2018, a change approved by the assembly back in 2012 to help the sanitation department’s budget.

Mayor Mark Jensen suggested holding another public hearing on the issue during the third reading this month. Wohlhueter made that motion and the assembly voted 6-1 to hold another public hearing on the issue with Cindi Lagoudakis voting no.

Wohlhueter, Bob Lynn and John Havrilekk voted against the proposed budget changes but they passed 4-3. The assembly will have the third and final vote at its March 16th meeting.

In other decisions Monday, the assembly voted not to pay the 32-thousand dollar cost of a new transformer for Petersburg Fisheries. They voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance increasing fees for transient and short-term moorage in the harbors along with the new permits for the drive down dock. That ordinance needs two more approvals before taking effect.

And the assembly voted 6-1 to award a contract for nearly 200-thousand dollars for landscaping work at the new library. That contract for rock work and drainage around the new building goes to Reid Brothers construction. The work is being funded by a state grant and private donations John Havrilek was the only no vote.