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Fate Of Township Recycling Department Remains Undecided

Town council considered privatizing the department, which could save money but may cost township jobs

The future of the township’s Recycling Department is up in the air, after a combative town council meeting Thursday night at which Mayor Bill Laforet proposed privatizing the department. Over 130 residents, including a large group of employees clad in bright yellow shirts and a blow-up union rat, gathered at town hall to hear the council’s opinions on privatization.

The Recycling Department, made up of seven public employees, is an arm of the DPW. Laforet proposed eliminating the department and replacing it with a private service that would pick up and transport residents’ recycling. According to Business Administrator Brian Campion, the town council needs to vote on whether or not it wants to privatize the department. Four privatizing options exist, he said:

  • Dual stream recycling picked up every other week (what happens now)
  • Dual stream recycling picked up every week
  • Single stream recycling picked up every other week
  • Single stream recycling picked up every week

Dual stream recycling is what the township currently engages in, where residents are required to separate paper products from other mixed recyclables. In a single stream system, all materials can be placed together.

The township put all four options out to bid, and received bids ranging from $189K – $275K for each of the different options. Laforet recommended the single-stream, every week option, which had a low bidder that would charge $240K a year.

The current recycling arm of the DPW is made up of seven positions, which would be eliminated from the township budget if the council voted in favor of privatization. Two positions are vacant. Two of the employees would be moved to open positions in the township’s water department, Campion said. Of the remaining three, two were hired this spring on a probationary level because the town was already considering a switch to a private service, and one would be laid off, he said.

The plan would go into effect October 1, with the laid off employee “to be recalled in January, we expect, after an anticipated retirement,” Campion said. The probationary employees would be placed on a recall list, he said.

The move, Laforet said, would save the township $220,000 a year, and “have the potential to save Mahwah $2.75M over 10 years.”

During a two-hour discussion, council members disputed the potential for savings, and the merits of switching to single stream, weekly recycling.

Councilman John Roth said the plan would shift money in the township budget, rather than save it. “I’m not sure the savings are real,” he said. He and Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio brought up concerns about what impact this might have on leaf collection and snow removal, which are duties performed by Recycling employees when necessary.

Campion said the switch may require the township to outsource the snow removal in a section of town, but said that the monetary impact would be negated by funding less in-house snow removal units. The council asked to see specific numbers on how much the additional outsourcing would cost.

Councilman Chuck Jandris cited online statistics about single stream recycling, saying that though it is more convenient for residents, and the amount of recycled material generally goes up when a municipality switches to a single stream model, the quality of the recycled material goes down. His argument was backed up by Danny Ferretti, the owner of one of the bidding private companies, who spoke during the public portion of the meeting.

“Commodities recycled in a single stream system lose value,” he said, because the compacting process they go through during pickup renders some of the material useless, as pieces of glass mix with bits of paper, and the two cannot be separated from one another.

Campion said the administration supported single stream because it would be more convenient for residents, and is estimated to increase the amount of recycling done by Mahwah residents. The switch could potentially allow the township to take in more revenue from recycled materials, and spend less on garbage removal, he said.

Council members also questioned the proposal to begin privatizing on October 1. “I’m upset that this was not discussed at budget time,” DiGiulio said. “I think we should talk about this then, when we can look at how to save money across all departments, not just one.”

Campion said the move to privatization would help the township meet the state-mandated two-percent tax levy cap in 2013. “If we don’t act now, we will be back here in January having a very similar discussion,” he said.

Laforet added this is the “perfect time” to make the change, because it would allow the township to fill positions currently vacant in the water department with DPW workers. If the council votes to do this in January, the number of layoffs would potentially be higher, as open positions would have already been filled with other applicants, he said.

Much of the debate swirled around what Laforet called the “human factor,” those employees that would be losing their jobs.

Resident Meg Winthrop told the council that this decision would impact her family directly. “You have a young man who is just starting out, just ready to move into his own apartment. Single stream or dual stream, whatever. The effect on my family would be downstream.”

DPW worker Marc Bracciodieta addressed the council and the mayor asking for different options to be considered. “Why not talk to your employees, the people who have experience in how this works everyday, and ask them for solutions and ideas on how you could save money?” he asked.

The council decided to table any decision on the issue, and revisit it at its July 26 meeting. “We should have the information presented in a better format at that meeting,” Council President John Spiech said. “And, it may not be the last [meeting on the topic]," he said.

Unknown August 08, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Keep jobs within Mahwah! The DPW guys have always done an outstanding job! Snow removal is every towns nightmare as far as costs are concerned, the weather is so unpredictable and having our own guys is a huge savings over outsourcing!! Don't try and fix something that works just to say you saved money, there are plenty of other opportunities out there to save money without changing the lives of our own workers!! Everyone in todays day and age are doing extra just to remain competitive in the job market, our DPW guys have always gone above and beyond and they are very much appreciated!!!!
Andy Schmidt August 08, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Hi Hank - this proposal is NOT about the Streets and Roads crews and other divisions of the DPW, who have been plowing your (and other streets) for the past 30 years. The two people effected by lay-off were hired this Spring, so you'll see the same faces this December that you saw last December manning the plows.
Hank August 08, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I know . Somewhere it was mentioned that $150 per hour for a snowplow contractor is cheaper than town employee. Just putting my 2 cents in.
Andy Schmidt August 08, 2012 at 02:07 PM
@Unknown: The two people of the recycling crew effected by lay-off were hired this Spring. The various crews of the Streets and Roads and other DPW divisions that you saw manning the plows last December will be back this December.
Really!! August 08, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Well said "unknown"! What some fail to realize is that it's not about "knowing the face" that you are seeing but it is more about knowing that the face is accountable for the work that they are doing to their boss and community. What do you think is going to happen with a private contractor? Do u think that his skeleton staff is just sitting around waiting for it to snow in Mahwah? More than likely they have other jobs that they need to work at first. As far as I know the DPW workers punch in and out (no matter what time of night) and are therefore accountable.To me that peace of mind is worth losing a mere $2 on my next tax bill. Believe me if this does happen with the way this has been done you will never see any proported savings, they will just tell you it had to go to something else anyway. All you will be left with is a bunch of piled up snow and leaves that wasn't taken care of properly. I'm just saying.

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