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Pulaski County agenda includes recycling; garbage fees rise $4.22 under plan

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Photographs by SOURCE: Pulaski County / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Pulaski County’s monthly trash collection rates

The Pulaski County Quorum Court will soon vote on a proposal that would tack an extra $4.22 onto monthly garbage collection rates and allow the roll-out of curbside recycling carts to county residents.

If the garbage collection rate increase is approved this month, residents' monthly sanitation cost would increase for the first time since 2009, from $22.36 to $26.58. Residents would receive a trimonthly bill of $79.74.

The proposed recycling service to 17,751 homes in the unincorporated areas of the county is the result of a yearlong pilot program that tested community interest in recycling.

About 180 households in the southwestern area of the county participated in the pilot program at no charge, and county figures show there was a participation rate of 58 percent. About six tons of recyclable material were collected every other week.

The proposed $4.22 monthly increase is not only driven by the addition of recycling service. Waste Management, which contracts with the county for trash collection, incrementally raises collection fees annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' consumer price index.

To avoid having to approve and impose new rates every year, county officials set a rate that anticipates five years of increases. Rates are set higher than Waste Management's charges at the time, thus building a reserve fund that can be dipped into in later years when the Waste Management charges increase.

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County Comptroller Mike Hutchens said the reserve fund stands today at about $1.5 million. But because collection services now cost the county about $400,000 per month, the fund would soon be depleted without an increase.

"We thought [2009's] raise was going to last five years, that was what we planned on," Hutchens said. "We made it about eight years, going into nine. ... I hope we're wrong like that again."

The contract county officials are currently negotiating with Waste Management would last five years. Its approval would prompt the company to purchase three collection trucks for about $250,000 each and 20,000 curbside carts for about $70 each and hire three new drivers, a company spokesman said.

Waste Management would collect all recyclable materials -- except glass -- on a bi-weekly basis. Materials would then be taken to the company's single-stream sorting facility near the Port Authority along the Arkansas River where aluminum, plastic, tin, and fiber products are processed at a rate of 100 tons per day. The processed materials are then shipped via rail and truck and sold as raw commodities.

Because 60 percent of the rubbish that ends up in trash bins is recyclable, according to the county pilot program's results, diverting recyclables from the landfill would extend its lifespan.

The recycling service would be in addition to pre-existing services: weekly trash pickup, yard trimming and limb collections, semi-annual bulky item collections, and tire collections.

"All of that is included in this amount. It's kind of a good deal when you think about all of it," said Barbara Richard, the county's public works director.

During last Tuesday's initial consideration of the rate increase, justices of the peace expressed hesitation at imposing such a large increase.

"There are wealthy people in the county who can afford this, and then there's a huge population of people who are very poor," said Justice of the Peace Doug Reed, R-Roland.

But because Waste Management uses recycled materials as a revenue source, county officials said the $4.22 increase would not be significantly reduced if the recycling component was removed from the proposed new contract.

"Even if it's $1.10 less, for some people that's good," said Justice of the Peace Lillie McMullen, D-Little Rock.

By comparison, Little Rock's monthly garbage and recycling rate is $22.02; Maumelle is $16.80 per month.

North Little Rock residents pay Waste Management just $2.84 per month, for recycling services. The city owns and operates its own taxpayer-funded garbage collection service, which includes bulk item pickup, brush pickup and seasonal leaf vacuuming. Last year's sanitation expenses amounted to $4.7 million, a city spokesman said.

The Pulaski County Quorum Court will consider the rate-increase measure March 28. If approved, the service would begin June 1.

Metro on 03/20/2017

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