Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved the purchase of a collection truck and new containers for the community’s curbside recycling program. Those purchases will allow the borough to take over the service from a private company and they were not too popular with residents testifying to the assembly this week.

More than a dozen people turned out to testify in the second public hearing on the proposed recycling changes. They were all opposed to the borough’s plan to purchase new collection containers and a new truck for the sanitation department.

Rugers Trucking, the private company with the curbside pick up, has received positive reviews for its service. Company co-owner Angela Davis testified against the change. “I will guarantee you that the recycling participation rate will drop dramatically if we go with the cans,” Davis said. “The community likes the convenience of the bags and they do not support changing a program they have just got used to doing. The numbers of the current households has already decreased over the last few months. I believe changing the current system is not going to be beneficial to the program.”

The Davis family turned in a petition last week to the borough with 289 signatures of people seeking to keep the blue bag system and stick with that private company. Their current contract costs the borough just over 85,000 dollars a year and would be a recurring annual cost to the borough. The 25,000 dollar cost for blue plastic bags would be another recurring cost to stick with that system.
The proposed budget changes include one-time costs of 210,000 dollars for the new borough truck and 75,000 for new recycling containers to replace the blue bags.

Linda Herff liked the blue bags. “I’m really careful when I’m putting things in the blue bag to put the cardboard kindof on one side and the paper there and I try not to get anything wet,” she said. “And I think if we have blue cans I can just see the lids falling open, things getting wet. How are you gonna get this dry now? Do you have to stick you head in and crawl in to wipe it?”

Another local resident, Harvey Gilliland supported the job done by Rugers. “I think the contractor’s been doing a great job,” Gilliland said. “It’s obvious they go at it with gusto and try to do it right. I can’t help but think the borough could be better off if there were more aspects of the town that were let out to private enterprise.”

Several people testifying said they would no longer participate in recycling if the borough took over the service using the containers. Wes Abbott was one. “I think it’s kinda irresponsible to pay almost 300-grand for a new truck and garbage cans and I don’t need another garbage can to haul out to the road every week,” Abbott said.

Testifying over the phone in favor of the change was public works director Karl Hagerman. And he made a financial argument. “If we do not decrease the expenses of the recycling program, we will have to raise garbage rates by nine percent in order to pay for the recycling collection contractor and annual bag purchases,” Hagerman said. “The current scheduled rate increase approved in 2012 will only be two percent. There is a way to continue the co-mingled recycling program at a lesser cost to the borough and ultimately the rate payers by reducing bailer facility hours, re-assigning existing staff to recycling collection and purchasing the equipment and carts needed to streamline the program, there is immediate and substantial annual savings to the borough and the rate payers.”

Hagerman thought switching to the collection containers would be cleaner and easier for customers, and lesser accessible to animals than the blue plastic bags.

Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter questioned the borough’s ability to do the recycling route as quickly as the contractor and he wanted another year of the contracted service. “I have more questions than I have answers for right now and I’m gonna be willing to revisit this next year and so I’m not going to approve this change myself,” Wohlhueter said. “Because I wanna look at it again next year and see where we’re at and see if there’s more room for improvement or maybe another alternative. Cause if we pass this now there is no other alternatives for us to consider.”

Wohlhueter moved to amend the budget ordinance to stay with the blue plastic bag system and the contractor for one more year but that amendment failed by a vote of 2-5. Only Bob Lynn joined Wohlhueter in voting yes on the amendment. That meant the new truck and containers remained in the budget ordinance and the assembly voted 6-1 to approve the budget changes in third and final reading. Wohlhueter was the only no vote.