On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Common Council approved Mayor Steve Noble’s request to borrow $400,000 to pay for new garbage totes as the city prepares to wind down its single-stream recycling program. A state grant is expected to offset half of the cost of the extra bins.
The move comes after the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency voted earlier this year to stop accepting commingled recyclables as a cost-saving measure. City lawmakers, who discussed the issue and length in a Monday night caucus meeting, lamented the city’s retreat on single-stream recycling but conceded that Noble’s proposal was the most feasible option.
“You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t,” said Alderman Doug Koop (D-Ward 2). “But we have to do something.”
Since 2011, the city has spent about $1 million moving towards a single-stream system that allows city residents to place all recyclables in a single tote. City trucks would transport the recyclables to UCRRA’s facility on Route 32, where the agency operates a dual-stream recycling system that requires paper and cardboard be separated from glass plastic and metal materials. Rather than process the mixed recyclables on site, UCRRA would transport them to a private facility in Beacon. The agency charged the city $20 per ton for the service.
The single-stream program was credited with boosting Kingston’s recycling rate by some 30 percent while reducing tipping fees paid to UCRRA for trash disposal by nearly 15 percent. But UCRRA officials determined that the system was not sustainable in the face of a slowdown in the global market for recyclables brought on by a new Chinese policy that prohibits importing recyclables unless they meet purity standards that are nearly impossible to attain. China’s booming industrial sector had been a primary market for recyclables worldwide but with that market closed, massive pallets of recyclables have been piling up on docks around the world while processing costs have risen sharply. With the Beacon facility charging UCRRA $59 per ton to process the single-stream material, officials at the agency opted to simply stop accepting Kingston’s mixed recyclables.
Noble, who this summer predicted that the city would continue its single-stream program, was forced to concede defeat on the issue. Other options, including hiring a private firm to haul and process the trash or the city taking responsibility for transporting it to Beacon and paying for processing were simply too costly, Noble said. Noble said that he hoped the return to three bins — one for trash, one for paper and cardboard and one for glass, plastic and metal — would not undo all of the gains made in recycling in recent years.
“We have to provide education and resources to make sure folks continue to recycle,” said Noble. “I think the environmental literacy of our community has grown a lot. It’s going to be a struggle, but we will get through it.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, he council voted unanimously on two resolutions to bring down the city’s reserve fund balance by paying off debts early and paying up front for costs that are usually paid with borrowed money.
The move comes at the recommendation of City Comptroller John Tuey who noted that, as of Dec. 31, 2017, the city’s reserve fund balance stood at $6.97 million or 15.8 percent of the total city budget. The city’s reserve fund policy calls for the fund to be maintained at between 10 and 13 percent of the total budget. In response, the council opted to spend a little over $1 million of the fund balance on items that will reduce the city’s overall debt. One allocation of $777,787 will pay off existing debts to the state retirement system to avoid future accumulated interest costs.
Another $271,500 will pay for vehicles for the police, fire and public works departments. Vehicles are usually purchased through bonding. Paying up front will allow the city to avoid interest charges.
“I think it’s great that we have some money to spend in ways that will save us money in the future,” said council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3).