- By Dominick Recckio
The Tompkins County Legislature unanimously approved Wednesday a financing plan that will increase the annual household fee to $70 for 2021. This $10 increase from the annual fee in 2020 is designed to help offset a significant increase in costs for contracted recycling services. The total proposed 2021 annual fee including all categories in the resolution (residential, colleges and schools, and businesses) is just over $4.1 million.
The approved five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems includes single stream recycling and solid waste handling, the operation of residential drop off areas, construction and site improvements at the Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste Center, and contractor employee living wage requirements. Casella Waste Systems was the only contractor to submit a proposal. The increase in cost is a result of significant changes in the recycling industry and markets since the institution of the previous ten-year contract, as well as increased costs and decreased revenues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Referencing the cost increases, Recycling and Materials Management Department Director Barb Eckstrom stated, "The industry has changed, increasing costs for recycling and the equipment needed. We're getting 70% less in the form of revenues, and our operation costs have increased." Eckstrom continued, "To put it in perspective, even with these increases we can move forward economically. We're glad that the legislature voted unanimously to increase the annual fee to $70. This measure will ensure that recycling in Tompkins County continues to be financially stable despite a difficult few years for the industry at large."
Legislator Mike Lane Chair of the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee added, "Tompkins County is making a decision to continue our recycling program the best we can."
The financing plan leverages the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Department's fund balance and spreads out the annual fee increase over five years as the fund balance is restored. During the December 1st meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, Recycling and Materials Management department officials presented details on the annual fee increase, including a breakdown of what is funded by the fee, 83% of which goes to recycling and recycling collection (see attached pie chart). Officials also detailed that the department would apply for a capital construction grant to help cover up to half of the site improvements and construction cost.