Killeen’s proposed single-stream recycling initiative has several moving parts that triggered numerous questions and concerns as city staff works to get the program nailed down and in place.
In a workshop Tuesday, the program moved closer to getting off the ground when the council reached a 5-2 consensus to give City Manager Glenn Morrison the go-ahead to enter into contract negotiations with Balcones Resources.
However, some council members are still questioning the city’s methods. “(Mayor Dan Corbin) called for the consensus; he saw more than four hands and moved the meeting forward,” Councilman Terry Clark said. “We left discussion so quickly. I don’t believe that the council had the opportunity to thoroughly discuss the workshop item.”
Michael Cleghorn, solid waste director, presented the council with the city staff’s recommendation of Austin-based Balcones’ proposal in a Jan. 14 workshop, which drew questions from council members who requested more information.
On Jan. 21, Cleghorn presented a side-by-side comparison of the four companies vying for the lucrative contract — Balcones, Centex Metals, WILCO and Texas Disposal Systems. The council asked for more time to review the proposals before endorsing one.
Centex Metals withdrew its proposal before Tuesday’s meeting, when the council reached a consensus to support Balcones.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone said she agreed with the city’s recommendation because Balcones’ experience outweighed the other companies.
“I read through their proposal and looked at all of the materials they provided and their education plans,” she said.
Councilman Jose Segarra said he was focusing on the proposals from Centex and Balcones in determining which company to endorse. He said the decision was easier once Centex withdrew its proposal.
Clark said he didn’t vote in favor of moving forward because he still had unanswered questions.
“It happened so quickly that the mayor called for a consensus and I had never been recognized to add to the discussion,” he said.
Councilman Jonathan Okray also said he wasn’t recognized to ask questions at Tuesday’s meeting.
Under the single-stream proposal, all residents would receive a 96-gallon trash cart and a 96-gallon recycling cart for an estimated $20.89 per month, with actual costs dependent on a rate study.
Hilary Shine, city spokeswoman, said staff determined the cost to residents using assumed market averages, estimated startup expenses and estimated disposal and diversion numbers.
Shine said staff estimated it would cost $3.39 a month per customer to recycle. When added to the city’s existing 96-gallon cart fee of $17.50 the total comes to $20.89 a month.
Capital outlay for the program is expected to cost about $4.8 million — $2 million for trucks and $2.8 million for recycling carts. The annual recurring cost to run the program is estimated at $675,699, which includes personnel and operating costs.
Shine said it’s necessary for the council to select a vendor before a rate study is completed so accurate figures are factored in.
“This study will take a comprehensive look at all solid waste fees, including the estimated cost of adding citywide recycling,” she said. “This study must factor in estimated expense and revenue from the recycling vendor in order to determine what fee increases, if any, will be necessary to support the current trash collection and proposed recycling collection.”
Okray said he believes choosing a company before conducting a rate study is “putting the cart before the horse.”
“We are committing to something and we really don’t know how much it’s going to cost,” he said.
Councilman Steve Harris agreed. “Even if the contract is being negotiated, the final price can’t be determined until the rate study is complete.”
Segarra said he agrees with choosing a provider before completing a rate study.
“The big thing citizens are concerned with is what is this going to cost; that’s why we need to move forward so we can determine a cost,” he said.
Councilman Jared Foster said he believes the rate will shed some light on residents’ cost concerns.
“I am optimistic that a rate study will ultimately reveal opportunities for cost savings we haven’t yet considered,” he said.
Part of the single-stream proposal is mandating the program throughout the city, but no final decisions have been made.
Shine said the proposal would restructure solid waste services.
“The base fee ... would include recycling,” she said. “So, residents choosing not to recycle using the city’s service would pay the same rate for solid waste services as those utilizing the service.”
Okray said he believes residents should vote on mandatory recycling.
“We aren’t asking citizens if they want this,” he said.
Corbin said there are “a lot of uncertainties regarding the program being rolled out citywide, which the council would decide in a vote.”
“I’m not sure that there are four votes for mandatory recycling,” he said.
Harris said he thinks the city should start small before initiating a mandatory citywide program.
“Instead of trying to move along with the whole city, we should have tried to follow other cities’ examples by initiating a pilot program,” Harris said.
Segarra said he thinks giving residents an incentive for recycling will play a big factor in moving forward with the program.
Foster said, for him, the question of the recycling initiative is “not a moral problem but an economic one.”
“We have a limited supply of space in (the landfill), and single-stream recycling constitutes a dramatic shift in how Killeen handles one of its primary services,” he said. “Seen in this light, the program is not a supplement to what we already offer but a restructuring of an entire enterprise that will be sustainable in the long term.”
Councilman Wayne Gilmore could not be reached for comment.