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We have experienced critical staffing shortages in many areas that have impacted our ability to provide core services. For example, throughout much of the past year, we have had a vacancy rate of approximately 50% in our Solid Waste Management division. This has led to suspension of bulk trash collection and has even challenged our ability to provide weekly trash pickup.
We’ve had similar vacancy concerns in other core service areas including our 911 dispatch center. In addition, last summer, local cities significantly boosted public safety pay and offered bonuses encouraging police officers to stay with our City.
In order to remain competitive, we have implemented pay increases and bonus programs to ensure that we can provide these core services. In order to pay for these services, City Council has identified a series of cost saving measures to redirect existing funding to areas of highest priority. Canceling the recycling contract was just one of several cost saving measures identified.
Recycling is one of many services that is funded through taxes and it must be evaluated against all other priorities including education, public safety, trash collection, stormwater management, road maintenance, etc. As part of the budget process, we try to identify ways to improve performance and reduce costs in all of our programs.
Our last recycling contract expired during a period in which the market for recyclables had considerably weakened. When we bid out a new contract in late 2019, only one vendor responded. The terms of that contract required the City to pay the highest rate in the region for curbside recycling service, a rate which has increased by 73% since 2018.
While the cost of our recycling program is nearly twice as expensive per ton as is our weekly trash collection, we elected to continue providing that service because it was valued by our community. However, as we evaluated programs and services for potential cost savings, we noted that nearly half of the materials collected through our curbside recycling program were either burned or disposed of in the landfill. This is not what our residents expect when they recycle, particularly given the high cost of the program.
Ultimately, it was determined that our recycling contract was extremely costly for our taxpayers (including those that do not get curbside recycling service), that the performance of the program did not achieve desired outcomes, and that the money spent on this service would be better utilized ensuring that we have adequate staffing to maintain our weekly trash collection service, resume bulk trash collection as soon a possible, and ensure that we can adequately staff our public safety operations.