City official says it is first step to full recycling program

By Krista DuhonThe News-Record

Miami utility customers will no longer be charged a fee for delivering yard waste to the city's solid waste facility.

The city's Special Utility Authority approved a recommendation by the city's interim city manager to discontinue the fee, noting that customers should not be charged for expediting a service that the city provides for free to residential customers.

Additionally, the city will seek a $25,000 recycling grant to purchase a wood chipper and make arrangements to hire one full-time employee. That person, according to interim administrator Tim Wilson, would be responsible for reducing limbs to firewood-size portions, chipping brush, mulching grass and leaves and verifying identities of people dropping off debris.

According to Wilson, for many years the city has picked up yard debris from residential curbs and taken the waste to the city's solid waste facility. Yard waste is picked up on Fridays and there is no charge for the service.

However, in 2004, a $5 minimum fee was assessed to residents who opted to bring the debris to the station on their own accord.

The fee was a direct result of a directive from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality that all yard waste must be chipped.

The disposal fee was intended to help curb the $26,000 a year grinding fee the city incurred for the sake of compliance.

“We know that it is not fair to the customers to charge them a fee for doing us the favor of bringing the yard waste to the solid waste facility,” Wilson said.

Wilson's proposal, presented Monday to the Special Utility Authority, will essentially move the $26,000 grinding fee to a salary expense for the new employee.

Grant funding, expected to be available after July 1, will be used to purchase a wood chipper and will advance the city toward a full recycling program, according to Wilson.

“DEQ is excited about this project,” Wilson said. “They want to see us put a recycling program in place … I would like to see it in place in 2008.”

A full recycling program - a project that would separate glass, cardboard and plastic materials from the city's refuse collection - could reduce the city's fees for tipping trash into off-site landfills by as much as 40 percent.

Six months into the current fiscal year, the City of Miami has paid $276,381.56 in tipping fees.

“A recycling program could mean a huge reduction in our tipping fees,” Wilson said “That is money that we could keep right here in our community.”

Start-up costs for recycling are big, according to city officials, but grant funding could help to reduce the cost and the program would provide revenue opportunities.

Wood chips, firewood and mulch could be sold and there is money to be gained through the re-sale of recyclable materials.

Utility authority members unanimously approved the yard waste plan, but clarified that a chipper is not to be purchased until the grant money is in hand.

“This is a good step forward,” Wilson said as he presented the plan.

Fees for yard waste delivered to the solid waste facility were officially dropped Tuesday.

Council member Rudy Shultz said today that Wilson's plan is a good plan.

Shultz said he has spoken with three residents in a month's time who voiced their frustrations with the fee assessed for a task that reduces a burden on the city.

However, the disposal fee still applies to commercial contractors.

Abuse of the service, during years when it was free, by commercial users played a role in the city's decision to assess a fee.

The new plan now specifically sets commercial users apart.

“Tim's plan is a great compromise,” Shultz said.

Shultz also said he is pleased to know that city administrators are taking a second look at the possibility of a full recycling program.

“(Monday) was the first I had heard that the city was revisiting that issue,” Shultz said. “I was excited to hear that.”

City administrators looked at recycling in 2007, but put lowered the priority of the project after realizing the expense of initiating the program.