The cost of garbage and recycling service in Petersburg may need annual increases of between one and five percent a year. That’s based on a review by a consulting firm hired by the Petersburg borough, which has been pondering the future of curbside recycling collection. But the size of rate increases depends on whether elected officials decide to continue with the existing program or make changes.

Petersburg’s public works director Chris Cotta last week released a review of the sanitation department’s revenues and expenses. That was done by consulting firm FCS Group in Redmond, Washington, the same company that also studied the cost of water and sewer service. He had briefed the borough assembly on that review at its first meeting this month.

“If you’ll recall we looked at four different options for recycling as part of this rate study and those options definitely impact rates depending on which recycling scenario is chosen,” Cotta said.

All four options would require a rate increase to keep the sanitation department in the black.

The first would be keeping the status quo, weekly curbside collection of mixed material. The consultant found that option will require a five percent increase each year for five years. That’s a cumulative increase of 27.13 percent for garbage rates.

A second option would be changing to every other week collection as well as reducing the types of materials collected to cut out the low value recyclables. Fewer collections would allow the sanitation department to maintain two trucks instead of three and keep a third truck in reserve. That option would require a three percent rate increase every year for five years. It’s estimated to save 36,565 dollars a year.

A third option is a drop off program only, eliminating collection, and asking customers to bring recyclables to a collection site. Cotta told the assembly the consultant reported that would likely result in a drop in recycling participation.

“Just because you’re reducing the convenience of it, you know people are having to make a trip to drop off site as opposed to just putting something in a blue can and setting it out every week,” he explained. “And so you’re participation goes down but your costs for the program also go down.”

That third option would only require a two percent annual rate hike each year for five years and save the department $69,996 a year.

The fourth option is ending the recycling program, something Cotta thought would not be popular.

“There’s a lot of people in the community that support recycling that want to continue recycling,” Cotta said. “The flip side of that is that a no recycling option lowers our costs to where you know we still need a rate increase but it’s a pretty low rate of increase. It’s about a one percent per year which we would need to bump the rates up to support the department.”

Petersburg saves $90,370 a year by eliminating the recycling program.

The review is based on a couple of factors. Petersburg’s five-year contract with Republic Services for shipping out garbage and recyclables is going up 3.5 percent a year. The consultant also figures the sanitation’s other costs will be increasing with inflation. With those factors FCS group figures the utility will be running a deficit not this year but the year after.

The municipal government has provided curbside collection of mixed recycled materials in big blue collection carts since early 2016. Prior to that it contracted with a private company for the service. It’s been losing money on recycling for several years. The cost for shipping out garbage and sending it to a landfill is 128 dollars a ton. Recyclable material costs the borough 170 dollars a ton.

Prior to releasing the full report, Cotta had provided the assembly with a one-page printout of the rate increases needed for each of the four options. Assembly member Jeff Meucci wanted to see the full study before deciding the next steps.

“Yeah if we can kick this can down the road, that’s great but I’d like to look at the details of this as soon as we can so I can spend you know between now and the next assembly meeting just some time to take my time and read what the FCS group has to say,” Meucci said.

The borough paid FCS Group $42,695 to review rates on water, sewer and garbage, putting the cost for each department just over $14,000. The consultant presented findings for water and sewer a year ago and recommended rate hikes. Increases for all municipal utilities have been on hold during the pandemic and would take three readings of a new ordinance before taking effect.