Governmental programs rarely seem to come in under budget — but that’s not the case with Mount Airy’s curbside-recycling operation, based on a nine-month progress report.
The program was estimated to cost $72,350 per year, but that figure will actually be $66,931, according to totals compiled by Jeff Boyles, the city’s public services director.
Though they reflect only the first nine months of curbside recycling, which was launched around Feb. 1, Boyles has “annualized” the various factors involved to determine the expense for the entire year.
Curbside recycling was implemented to allow citizens the convenience of recycling materials such as paper, plastics and glass directly from their homes as opposed to transporting them to a city recycling center operated for several years on Riverside Drive. It also helps save space in the county landfill.
The decision to begin curbside recycling was controversial, with one concern among critics being the possibility that the program’s anticipated cost was understated.
It required projected one-time expenses totaling $395,000. These included the purchase of a new side-loading truck, the city’s share of buying 96-gallon roll-put carts with the help of a state grant and some minor construction work to develop a drop-off point at the previous recycling center.
With some items coming in at less than the estimates and others greater, the final tally for one-time costs was nearly $392,000.
The $66,931 annual expense cited by Boyles also reflects labor, fuel and related costs in addition to pro-rated figures for the truck and carts based on the life expectancy of that equipment.
An unexpected bonus was the $4,000 Mount Airy has received for its recyclables this year from Sonoco, a company that comes to Mount Airy to pick up items and transport them to a processing center in Winston-Salem. This is done free of charge under a three-year agreement that also calls for Mount Airy to be paid for materials under certain circumstances.
Such a “profit” was not figured into the planning equation, Boyles said, because the question of whether the city is paid for items or not is determined by fluctuating conditions in the recyclables market which can’t be counted on regularly. But so far this is helping to reduce Mount Airy’s budget for curbside recycling.
“You can really take that $4,000 off the $66,000,” Boyles said of the money derived from recyclables and the $66,931 annual cost figure.
In discussing how well the new program has been embraced by the public, Boyles said the usage rate is “pretty close” to where he wanted it to be at the nine-month mark. After a slow start, it grew steadily until a 50-percent rate was achieved, which has remained stable. The overall level for the year stood at just under that figure as of late October.
The 50-percent mark refers to the “set-out” rate, or those who regularly roll their blue carts to the curb.
However, the participation rate — which applies to residents who might do so on an irregular basis because of waiting until their carts are filled — is considered to be much higher. The driver who mans the automated recycling truck estimates that rate at between 70 and 75 percent.
“We don’t have any real good numbers on that,” Boyles said.
He expects, however, that the holiday season might cause a spike in regular usage, due to the discarding of cardboard and other paper materials associated with gift-giving.
“We don’t know what effect Christmas will have,” the public services director said of the seasonal influence regarding recycling which the municipality will be experiencing for the first time.
Yet he expects it to bring a “big bump” for recycling purposes.
Blue carts were issued last January to 4,250 locations in the city limits, including homes, churches and other sites.
348 Tons And Counting
The volume of materials collected during the first nine months of the program totals nearly 348 tons.
At a rate of nearly 35 tons per month, the annual output would come in under the 500 tons projected for the program’s first 12 months — not counting any huge influx of items from the holiday season.
But the impact of the tonnage received so far this year can be weighed against what citizens were recycling before the curbside program started.
For all of Fiscal Year 2011, 104 tons were received at the Riverside Drive site. Putting that into perspective, the public services director said that what has been achieved on a curbside basis in 2012 would have required three years and four months to amass there.
A boost in rates and volume is expected to result from the formation of a city recycling advisory committee in October. The five-member group includes Dave Petri, Roger Haymore, Tracy Greenwood, Ken Klamfoth and Lee Daniels.
Its tasks include exploring ways to improve the curbside program and educating the public about it in order to increase participation.
“I know we’re going to do great things and take this to the next level,” Boyles said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.