With Laramie’s green waste program operating in a deficit, Mayor Andi Summerville is requesting the community’s input about how best to fix the problem.
“Any public feedback we can get would be appreciated,” she said. “I think it’s crucial to the conversation. It’s really hard to quantify how many residents are using the collection sites or would be interested in a curbside collection program.”
After the Laramie City Council discussed green waste program options in a special work session June 12, the council is slated to vote on which option to pursue at the regular council meeting today.
The options include implementing fees, creating a public-private partnership and a voluntary program or mandatory program, but most point toward eliminating the green waste collection points as the most effective way to reduce costs.
“I think council has not come to a good consensus on what we want to do yet,” Summerville said. “I don’t know for sure the council will vote to discontinue those neighborhood sites.”
Recently, the collection sites have been plagued by misuse and illegal dumping, which has increased the labor the city has to dedicate to keeping the sites clean and safe, she said.
“There’s trash being dropped at those sites constantly,” Summerville said. “Commercial green waste keeps showing up in those bins. I just don’t think it’s feasible to continue those collection sites.”
During the June 12 work session, Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said the composting program, which includes the green waste program, is operating at about a $160,000 deficit.
“In an enterprise fund, there is no excuse for running at a deficit,” Jordan said. “We started collecting at those sites weekly. We are now collecting on a daily basis.”
Of the $160,000 deficit, she said city staff estimates the green waste collection program accounts for about $81,000.
“When folks leave the mess, when folks leave things in bags, when folks leave things laying around, that’s extremely labor intensive to pick those items up, sort them and transport them,” Jordan said.
“Our choices are change the method for collecting green waste to make it more efficient or allocate additional budget and a rate increase to support that.”
Although the program was predicted to cost the city about $28,000 when it began in 2010, she said it was also conceived as a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.
“We originally established six neighborhood convenience sites throughout the community,” Jordan said. “What’s notable is we never intended to establish those green waste collection sites as permanent installations in the community. It’s a bad practice for a number of reasons.”
The city currently operates 10 neighborhood green waste collection points and offers free green waste drop-off at the landfill.
While free landfill access is not guaranteed by all the options, Laramie Public Works Director Earl Smith said June 12 it would be beneficial to continue offering the service.
“We collect about 85 percent of our green waste at the landfill,” Smith said. “I would hate to diminish that.”
On Monday, Summerville said the composting program deficit is multifaceted.
“We have a two-prong problem here — one is the abuse of the neighborhood sites, and the other is the loss of money from our composting program,” she said.
City staff did not have an exact breakdown of where the other $79,000 of program funds were being lost, but Summerville said the council asked for the data to be presented at today’s meeting.
However, she said determining the value of the composting program as a whole was a difficult task.
“I think it’s difficult to quantify all of the program’s benefits, but we’ve asked city staff to try,” Summerville said. “The city supports numerous activities that don’t make fiscal sense. We have lots of green space — parks and greenbelt — that doesn’t generate money but is important to the community”
In addition to saving space in the landfill, the composting program saves the city money by providing a wastewater biosolid disposal option. Without the program, she said the city would have to pay to dispose of the biosolids.
Additionally, Summerville said the green waste collection program adds a quality-of-life element to the community.
“I think the community in general supports the idea of being a green, environment-friendly community,” she said. “It’s a delicate balance. You have to run a financially responsible city, but you can balance that against things that don’t bring any fiscal value, but significantly increase the quality of life for the community. I think the green waste program falls into that gray area.”
Whichever direction the council decides to go, Summerville said she would like it to be guided by public input.
“I really think the people that use this service need to give us as much feedback as possible, so we can make the best decision about the future of the program,” she said.
The Laramie City Council regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall, 406 Ivinson Ave.