Washington City tables county recycling agreement over opt-out concerns

WASHINGTON CITY — A resolution approving of a proposed 10-year deal between the Washington County Solid Waste District and Republic Services for trash and recycling pick up was tabled by the Washington City Council Wednesday night due to concerns over how the opt-out option on recycling services would be handled.

Blue recycle bin, location and date unspecified | Stock image, St. George News

Prior to the council’s meeting Wednesday, the 20-member solid waste district’s board voted unanimously last month to enter into a decade-long contract with Phoenix-based Republic Services for trash pick up, recycling and landfill management.

“We’re coming up on the end of the current contract on the recycling and solid waste,” Councilman Craig Coats said during the council’s work meeting. “They’ve decided to do a 10-year agreement with Republic on this.”

The current contract is set to expire Jan. 31, 2021.

With the waste district’s approval of the contract, it is now being presented to the councils of the cities and towns it serves for adoption. The new contract needs unanimous approval from the municipalities by the end of August in order for it to take effect and allow county residents a 90-day opt-out period for recycling services between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, Fay Reber, the attorney to the waste district, told the City Council.

The Washington County Solid Waste District logo as seen on the side of a trash bin in St. George, Utah, July 9, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The council heard details of the new contract from Reber and Coats during a work meeting followed by a regular meeting where a resolution giving the city’s approval was ultimately tabled due to concerns over how the new program’s opt-out option would be handled and advertised.

Under the countywide recycling program that was adopted five years ago, residents in Washington City, St. George and other municipalities automatically enrolled their residents into the program unless they chose to opt out by a designated time. Some municipalities did not allow their residents that option.

Under the new contract, the waste district, and not the municipalities, will be handling opt-out requests submitted during the 90-day opt-out period. However, it would be left to the cities to receive those opt-out requests and submit them to the district.

A blue recycle bin and trash can. The Washington County Solid Waste District is currently visiting municipalities in the county in order to get a new contact for trash and recycle pick up by Republic Services approved, St. George, Utah, July 9, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Where issues over the opt-out option arose was whether residents who had originally opted out of the program would have to opt out again, or have their current status carried over under the new contract. Reber said it was the intent of the district to enroll everyone automatically and then deal with opt-out requests.

“Somebody who’s already opted out, who’s not a part of the program, would have to opt out again,” Reber said. “That’s the way it was conceived. The reason for that is because, from a district perspective, we’re trying to encourage as many people as possible to be a part of the recycling program because it cuts down on what’s going into the landfill, extends the life of the landfill. We think it’s the right thing to do to conserve resources.”

Councilman Danial Cluff said he didn’t think someone who opted out originally should have to do it again, as their intent was already known. On the other hand, Councilman Doug Ward said some of those people may have changed their minds in the last five years, and adding them to the new program could encourage more recycling.

Another reason for getting as many people to be a part of the recycling program as possible is to keep the cost of it down for residents, Coats and Reber said.

The Washington City Council hears details for a proposed 10-year trash and recycle pick up contract with Republic from Washington County Solid Waste District board chair Cheyne McDonald and attorney Fey Reber (not pictured), Washington City, Utah, July 8, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Under the current contract, regular trash removal in Washington City overall – including Republic’s fee and county and city administrative fees – is $12.60. The current recycling fee brings that up to $15.09.

Under the new contract, the cost for the first year of service, minus recycling fees, jumps to $12.90. An estimated 2.5% annual increase over the next decade increases the trash fee to $14.62, barring any increases in administrative fees during that time. An annual recycling change – which will be based on the number of participants within the program – will bring the total monthly cost to $19.12 in the first year and $22.06 by the 10th.

The project costs of the recycling program are divided into three tiers, both Coats and Reber said.

  • Tier 1, which would be over 51% enrollment, starts at $4.91 and increases to $6.13 by Jan. 1, 2030.
  • Tier 2, 41%-50% enrollment, starts at $5.35 and increases to $6.68 by Jan. 1, 2030.
  • Tier 3, 34%-41% enrollment, starts at $5.91 and increases to $7.38 by Jan. 1, 2030.

Between 64,000 and 65,000 residences are served by the waste district, Reber said, with around 52,000 presently enrolled in the recycling program.

If enrollment dips below 34%, the “program is dead,” Coats said, as it wouldn’t be financially feasible for Republic Services to manage.

Reber noted the recycling fee was also increasing due to the fact it had been subsidized by the waste district. That will end with the expiration of the current contract.

Rate comparisons for municipalities in Washington County for trash and recyclable pick up over the next 10 years as presented in a contract proposed by Republic Services. | Image courtesy of Washington City, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Letting residents know about the tiered rates based on participation is one of the issues the waste district is presently dealing with, Reber said.

“Getting the word out really is the key to this,” Reber said.

The waste district plans to launch an information campaign about the changes coming with the new contract once it gets the agreement approved by the municipalities and estimated the amount that had been set aside for that campaign to be $70,000 or more, Cheyne McDonald, the waste district’s board chairman, said.

“We’re voting on a very good waste collection agreement,” Council member Kress Staheli said, “but residents who live in our city, they each have their ‘vote’ whether or not to participate in the recycling program. Your vote matters if you want to recycle or not.”

Stock photos, St. George News

The council ultimately voted 4-1 to table the resolution until its next meeting. Between now and then, the council requested the waste district address some of its concerns over how people who want to opt out could be handled better.

Coats voted against tabling the resolution, saying he believed the city was ready to adopt it, yet didn’t object to holding it over to the council’s next meeting set for July 23.

Should the new contract with Republic Services be adopted across the county, pick up times for trash and recyclables will remain at once a week and twice a month respectively. The waste district will also be able to review the contract in three years to determine whether or not recycling efforts should be continued.

Areas excluded from the recycling program include Enterprise, Apple Valley, New Harmony and the unincorporated parts of Washington County.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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