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.