Alpine City Manager Jessica Garza sent this letter to the editor to The Big Bend Gazette today:
Much has been talked about recently over the status of the Hal Flanders Recycling Center and its future. Sadly, much of this information is rumor and not based on the facts surrounding the issue. It bears repeating that at no time has there been discussion to close the recycling center, reduce its budget or intentionally dispose of recycled items in the landfill.
The last 4 months has created a “perfect storm” of events that has plagued the center. At the June 5th council meeting, it was stated that the current operating hours were reduced due to lack of staffing and not due to a reduction in the budget. This is still true. The funding for the recycling center provided by the City of Alpine has not been reduced during the year, nor was it reduced from the prior fiscal year. Allocations for staffing and supplies remains the same for 2017 and 2018. The recycling center is currently over budget and has been utilizing available funding from other departments to purchase some of its supplies, and parts for the glass crusher and brush chipper.
Since December, the recycling center has had three different employees as its Recycling Technician. The position is not an easy position to fill; it is part-time with no benefits and pays $10 per hour. There are no lavatory or utility services at the center, the position also entails the ability to do heavy lifting and it is exposed to the heat, rain and cold, as there is no fully enclosed structure for rest. The Keep Alpine Beautiful (KAB) Coordinator also covers hours at the recycling center when the technician is not there. The coordinator and code enforcement positions were both part-time and had been combined in the years past. In addition to covering the recycling center and performing code enforcement duties, the coordinator also had the duties of coordinating activities and programs for Keep Alpine Beautiful. This position has now been separated and we have been accepting applications to fill the position of Keep Alpine Beautiful Coordinator.
It is important to note that the recycling center is actually two operations located at the same location. The glass and brush side is wholly operated and funded by the City of Alpine. The paper/plastic/cardboard side is an added service of the city’s residential sanitation contract with Texas Disposal and is not funded in any way by grants or extra fees. It was not intended to serve others outside of the city limits however the market demand for paper/plastic/cardboard had been high enough for the center to take on additional material. That has changed over the last year and the demand has dropped drastically. The economy of recyclables is such, that there are very few opportunities to have items like scrap metal, old electronics and tires removed for free. The demand for recyclables came from outside of the U.S. and recent changes in trade laws have reduced the amount of material being exported.
Another factor to this “perfect storm” is the frequency illegal dumping at the center and an increase of contaminates in the recycled material. TDS is having to spend an unusual amount of time sorting contaminated items from the thousands of pounds of material. At times the contaminate level has been so high that entire loads are having to be landfilled rather than baled and stored. The processing time to sort has impacted TDS’ ability to process material and caused temporary closures at the center for one type of recyclable or another. Presently, the center is temporarily not taking plastics.
This brings us to grants for the operation and the City’s capacity not just to apply for grants but to see that they are utilized as part of a strategic plan with a beginning middle and end. The City received a grant in 2016 from TCEQ that was only partially utilized and nearly 20% of the funds were returned to the agency. Two private grants received by KAB in in 2017 have not been completed and both projects are already over budget.
As we move toward the upcoming 2019 budget there are a few things that need to be addressed with regard to the recycling center.
- We need to determine the true cost to operate both sides of the recycling center and properly plan for market fluctuations, equipment replacement and regular maintenance. This Includes the proper removal of used tires and electronics.
- Improve the working condition and pay scale for employees in order to reduce turnover and build internal capacity.
- Solicit the Keep Alpine Beautiful board to take a more active role in planning and organizing the activities and events of KAB, including public awareness, volunteerism, and fundraising to assist in covering some of the costs of the operation and fulfill the mission of KAB.
- Determine if there is a need for user fees and what that amount would have to be to cover the true costs.
- Seek out only those grants that the city has the capacity to complete within a reasonable amount of time and those that cover all the cost of the project or program.
To this end we have held several meaningful meetings with TDS and Brewster County which have resulted in performing a pilot project at the recycling center. This project will open up the recycling center to everyone in Brewster County. Users will need to sign in, provide their address and state the types of recyclables they are delivering to the center. While this isn’t a long-term solution, it will provide us with some data necessary to create a plan that would bring the city, county and TDS together for long-term sustainability of recycling in this area.