Lawrence City Commission approves commercial recycling service despite cost concerns

Recycling materials are pulled up a conveyor to be sent through a complex sorting system on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 at the Hamm's Recycling Facility, 26195 Linwood Road, that processes Lawrence's recyclable materials.

At their meeting Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners approved a voluntary commercial recycling service despite some concern that the service’s high price tag will discourage businesses from signing up.

The city already operates a citywide residential recycling service — where households are charged a small fee whether they recycle or not — and Commissioner Matthew Herbert said he thinks the city should do the same for commercial service. He said the high service cost under a voluntary program will be discouraging.

“I think if we say, ‘throw up your hand if you’re willing to spend $130 per month to be part of this,’ I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of hands up,” Herbert said. “And I think we’ll have unveiled a pilot program that’s going to fail before we give it a chance to actually succeed.”

The pilot service will cover two areas and would cost a downtown business about $130 per month for six days per week of pickup. Fees for businesses in south Lawrence — the pilot area is mostly on south Iowa Street and 23rd Street — would be about $44 per month for collection twice per week. The fees are set to recover all costs for the city as long as 15 percent of businesses sign up, according to city calculations.

Solid Waste Division Manager Kathy Richardson told the commission the city will do the pilot as long as 8 percent of businesses sign up. In reference to making it mandatory, Richardson said the amount of recyclables for businesses is too variable, with some businesses generating virtually nothing and others producing enough to contract with recycling brokers.

The commission ultimately voted unanimously to approve the business plan for the pilot program, but also agreed that if the pilot is not successful they will change the model as opposed to giving up on the idea of commercial recycling.

“I also think that it’s not if this fails, it fails, and there is nothing else,” Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said. “If we don’t get 8 percent, then we try something different.”

For both areas, customers would need to purchase a 95-gallon recycling cart and could pay more to have additional carts.

The commission discussed reducing the frequency of the downtown recycling pickup, but ultimately decided against it due to space and equity concerns. Richardson said space is very limited in the alleyways downtown, and the model was built on daily collection so that most businesses would just be adding one cart to the alleyways. She also said decreasing the number of collection days downtown would ultimately shift costs and variables, resulting in an increase in price in the south Lawrence rate.

The pilot program will run for eight months, May through December. Richardson said the city would need to hit the 8 percent sign-up deadline by mid-March.

In other business, the commission:

• Voted unanimously to award $600,000 in city funds to affordable housing projects for 2017 and 2018. The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board is recommending the city provide $30,000 to Tenants to Homeowners, $75,000 to Lawrence Habitat for Humanity, and $495,000 to Bert Nash for a mental health facility that includes temporary housing. The commission also voted to increase the number of board members from nine to 12, adding representatives from the chamber of commerce, the University of Kansas, and the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

• Largely deferred the decision of how it would spend the approximately $690,000 recouped as a result of an audit of the city’s miscellaneous billing. The commission voted unanimously to spend $49,000 of the recouped money to cover the cost of the audit, and deferred the decision on how it would allocate the rest of the money. The commission said it could not make the decision before the city’s year-end fund balances are known, and directed city staff to preserve the money in the general fund until the 2019 budget process. City staff’s recommendation was to use the money to pay for the audit, purchase new accounting software and fund the $600,000 in affordable housing projects, which the city recently was advised cannot be funded using debt.