INSIGHTS: Save the pocketbook or the planet?

 

At a recent Rio Rancho Governing Body public workshop, Mayor Gregg Hull looked at then Acting City Manager John Craig and asked, “When was this meeting publicly noticed?”

“Friday,” Craig replied.

By then, the following Tuesday, the statutory 72-hour advance public notice period was met.

The mayor’s point was that I was the only citizen in the audience.

Of course, three out of six city councilors were also absent from the meeting. And one left before the session ended.

The work session was called to discuss a request from Waste Management Inc. (WMI) to adjust their curbside trash pickup rates because of WMI’s rising third-party recycled material disposal costs, as permitted by their contract with the city.

The mayor and council were remembering 2018, when WMI rates went up to cover waste disposal improvements requested by the city — including glass recycling, more frequent use of the landfill and home pickup of household hazardous waste. Prior rate increases had been less frequent and sometimes as low as 1 percent.

Residents said the 2017-18 rate increase received little if any public notice, and the timing around the December holidays was not the best.

Fast forward to the present: The city held a work session where WMI presented alternatives for balancing the value of recycling against the cost increases stemming from recycling market forces.

The problem was, nobody came to the work session. If more residents (and councilors) had attended, they would have learned:

• Besides its own curbside pickup, WMI bills for landfill charges and recyclables-disposal charges. A third party, Friedman Recycling — New Mexico’s only in-state recycling contractor — handles the actual materials processing. WMI pays all those costs from its waste-disposal rate billings, even when those billings don’t cover WMI third-party expenses.

• To fully offset Friedman’s fee increase would cost the average WMI customer 68 cents more per month, $8.16 more per year.

• If the city itself opted to pay the difference, the general fund, which pays for such things as public safety and road repairs, would take a $250,000 annual hit.

The city and WMI remember consumers’ response to the previous rate increase. In fact, the city initially rejected WMI’s most recent request, a move that likely could have been overturned in court.

At the June 18 work session, Waste Management proposed several options to reduce the added cost to consumers: (1) Cutting back weekly recycling pickup to every other week — reducing the customer monthly rate increase from 68 cents to 18 cents, or $2.16 per year. (2) “Landfilling” recyclables instead of processing them through the recycling contractor — raising the monthly WMI rate by 29 cents versus 68 cents but getting no recycling service in return.

Recycling is not free. But how much is it worth?

For the full story, check the city website (rrnm.gov) for a video replay of the work session or read WMI’s very informative workshop handout. And remember: Communication is a two-way street.

On matters like this, city councilors need to engage early and fully, but it also takes an audience to hear the message.

(Cheryl Everett is a former Rio Rancho City Councilor and columnist for the Observer. Insights is published once a month)

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