With about 70 percent of the recyclable material collected at the city's drop-off location behind north City Market coming from county residents, Durangoan Tom Darnell asked the Durango City Council at Tuesday's meeting if it was appropriate that city resources be spent to collect county materials.Councilors' simple answer: Yes.
Mayor Leigh Meigs said the 70 percent figure is a mandate, not a problem.
"It's not a question of right or wrong. It's simply a demonstration by the community how popular these kinds of green practices have become, and our government should respond," she said.
The council was considering at the meeting whether to purchase new front-loading garbage trucks and larger containers for the drop-off site. The cans at the drop-off station fill up fast and require about 50 trips from the city's collection trucks per week to alleviate the strain. The trucks and containers are intended to speed up collection and increase efficiency.
The measure passed 4-1.
"It goes with our overall philosophy, which is 'do the right things,'" said Assistant City Manager Greg Caton, who oversees the city's Office of Sustainable Services and led the effort to purchase the new trucks. "We welcome those recyclables. There is a cost, but there's also a revenue stream."
Expected revenue this year for the city's recycling program is $300,000, down from $460,000 projected at the beginning of the year. The city's recycling program has operated at a loss since it began, but most municipal recycling programs don't make a profit. Caton also stressed that, when recycling is combined with the city's garbage program, waste-management efforts in Durango are making money.
Darnell said he supports recycling and efforts to increase efficiency at the Durango drop-off site, but he thinks cooperation with private enterprise might be inevitable as a recession starts to dry up grant money.
"The question I have is, are they just trying to justify expanding their fleet of trucks and are using this number to do it?" he said of the 70 percent figure.
The county does not collect garbage or recyclables. Residents of unincorporated La Plata County have the option of paying for curbside recycling from one of three private waste-disposal contractors - Waste Corporation of America, Waste Management or local company Phoenix Recycling.
Waste Management, which does not provide service to city residents, offers curbside residential garbage and recycling pickup for $19 per month.
Neither the county nor the city has a landfill site, but residents can drop off trash for a fee at two transfer stations. The waste material sits temporarily at either the Marvel transfer station or a transfer station near Bayfield and is then shipped to other landfills.
Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said her office is working with the city to develop land in the county that would serve as a new recycling center. In the meantime, she said, there are temporary offsets.
"Remember, the other piece of this is that these county residents have to come into town to drop off their recyclables and then a lot of them choose to stick around and spend money," Spina said.