Paying a contractor to sort and bale those empty beer cans and cereal boxes may not be cheap, but the city of Albuquerque is unlikely to save money by bringing the job in-house.
In fact, a consultant hired to study the feasibility of a city-owned and operated recycling center – or “material recovery facility” in industry parlance – says it would cost more.
“We would recommend that the city not build and operate an MRF,” consultant David S. Yanke told the City Council last week.
The city has a 12-year contract with Friedman Recycling to process the contents of residents’ blue bins and sell the material to others. Friedman owns an MRF in the North Valley.
The parties share in the revenue generated through the sale of the recyclable material.
But with prices for the material falling – due largely to reduced demand from China – revenues are offsetting less of the processing costs.
City officials said last year that the city’s back-end recycling costs soared to $3.5 million in 2020, up from $350,000 in 2017.
Through 11 months of the current fiscal year, the city has spent $2.8 million on the contract, and it has budgeted $3.4 million for the next fiscal year.
Yanke’s firm – doing a study sought by the City Council – estimated $28.8 million in capital costs for a new city-owned facility.
It also reported that processing would cost the city considerably more if done in-house, largely because the city generally pays better than the private sector and offers benefits.
The annual labor costs for a city-managed operation would be $1.6 million compared with $1 million under private management, the analysis found.
The consultant advised against the city building and running its own facility but urged it to approach Friedman about potentially adding optical scanners to reduce processing costs. It also recommended the city weigh whether it should seek another company that wants to build and operate a new facility to serve the city.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Solid Waste Department said it is considering it options.
The Friedman contract expires in 2023 but could be extended if both parties are on board, spokeswoman Emily Moore said.
WHOSE BILL?: Shortly after the Albuquerque City Council passed a moratorium on cannabis activity in Old Town last Monday night, Mayor Tim Keller’s office issued a news release heralding the decision – and taking credit for the idea.
“We are pleased that City Council has passed Mayor Keller’s proposal to leave cannabis to the city’s other commercial areas in this (Integrated Development Ordinance) process,” a spokeswoman said in the release.
But the only name on the Old Town legislation the City Council had passed that night was Councilor Isaac Benton’s.
Benton said he never discussed the legislation with Keller or anyone in Keller’s administration and called it “disrespectful” to celebrate it as the mayor’s proposal. The Keller news release did not mention Benton.
“I don’t think he’s the only mayor that does this, but there’s a tendency to steal the thunder from a lesser elected official,” Benton said.
The council passed the moratorium – which prohibits cannabis activity in Old Town until next year so special rules can be considered for the historic area – less than a week after it considered a series of other marijuana-related zoning rules and, in the process, rejected most of Keller’s proposed regulations.
None of the Keller proposals the council voted on the prior week were specific to Old Town, but his office said in a statement to the Journal that Old Town-specific policy has been “a clear priority from the start” and they were “glad that Councilor Benton shares that goal.”
“The Keller Administration has worked directly with stakeholders, industry, councilors, and council staff throughout this process to achieve a policy covering Old Town,” spokesman Babaak Parcham said in a statement.
But those discussions apparently did not include Benton, whose district includes Old Town.
“There were a lot of discussions going on around the IDO; it’s possible that staff between city (administration) and council may have spoken about it,” Benton said. “But my idea about Old Town was my own.”
Jessica Dyer: firstname.lastname@example.org