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Attempting to move forward
by Mary Atkinson · January 02, 2014

City officials are seeing red after looking at a study presented by Interim City Manager Lawrence McNaul at a city council work session Dec. 17 on the solid waste/recycling program.

However, the city is still looking into rebooting the program. McNaul also presented three possible ideas to help move the city forward after his initial report.

His study showed that the city has been experiencing a deficit since 2008 with the total losses well over $500,000 from the solid waste/recycling program. McNaul said it was due to commercial rates that were not accurately adjusted to meet the growing expenses incurred by the city.

For example, he said that last October, rates for commercial customers were adjusted using a fee calculation from 2001. Based on approximate users at the current rate the additional lost revenue for fiscal year 2013-14 is $108,392.

"The fees charged to the City of West Liberty's commercial users have never been adjusted accurately to meet the historical cost of living, merit and tipping fee increases," McNaul said in his report.

The study showed that measures taken to offset the losses every year did not catch up with rising expenses.

"The biggest expenses these last couple of years - this year and last year - would appear to be that we weren't recycling. We were taking it to the landfill." McNaul said.

Every load of solid waste taken to the landfill, which is several a week, costs the city in tipping fees, wages and gasoline.

"Currently, the city clerk, treasurer and interim manager are working to identify and move solid waste, wages and benefits to a more equitable fund being vigilant to not begin depleting other accounts by shifting the burden and begin paving the road to the future." McNaul reported. "We are taking into account attrition of senior city employees."

However, ever since the issue was brought up earlier this year fewer and fewer recycling loads have been dumped due to contamination. This is making efforts to curb the problem completely.

McNaul presented three options for the city to consider in overhauling the recycle/waste program.

The first option would be to maintain the current practice of handling solid waste and recycling and adjust the rates across the board to a fee adequate to bring the city into balance.

However, this option, McNaul advised, would take years to recoup lost revenues and trust back from the community.

The second option would be to privatize services with a vendor for curbside recycling with the potential for immediate cash flow, and allowing employees to be 'repurposed' to other jobs that have become outsourced, thus, saving personnel and money.

McNaul said this option would always be available.

The third option, he said, would be the best option, and that involves going 'landfill free'. This approach means partnering with West Liberty Foods and the school district to recycle and compost. 

"We would be the first community in the nation to do this." McNaul said.

When asked how the situation got this far McNaul said the previous city manager had assigned an inexperienced employee with the task of calculating the rates.

"I think this is what has happened - we have rushed into decisions before that were not effective," McNaul said. "The analysis was not done properly because we rushed into it."

McNaul said the task should be one that is done with a team effort.

"That way somebody is checking my work - I'm checking their work - there are checks and balances." he said. 

He also said that he thinks it is important the city, as well as the community, stay focused on what needs to be changed in order to fix the problem.

"It's not about how we got here," he said. "It's about what we need to do to move forward - that's the bottom line."

After going over his findings at the meeting, McNaul told the council that he and city staff would continue researching options and how they impact the community.

McNaul said that anyone who has questions or feedback should contact him at the city's number 319-627-2418.

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