The 2019-20 county budget has been finalized by the Park County Commissioners and with it, the recycling centers in Cody, Powell and Meeteetse will escape without having funding slashed.
“It’s something that’s provided to the constituents and the folks of the county,” commissioner Lee Livingston said. “If they feel that strongly about having it, then let’s have it.”
After first compiling their draft budget June 25 the commissioners made a plan to cut their contribution to the three municipally-run facilities by 50 percent.
“You’re not going to make any money doing it,” Livingston said. “But there’s a lot of things in this county you’re not making money at.”
Although it was only $7,050 to be cut in total, it is a well-known fact that none of the recycling centers are money-making enterprises.
“I know it’s not a huge number when you’re balancing a budget as big as the one that you are all in charge of,” Anna Hardy, a board member for the Powell Valley Recycling Center, said. “But it’s a big deal to us.”
Due to a poor current resale market for recycled goods, small recycling centers like the ones in Park County are now struggling to stay afloat. The Cody Recycling Center anticipates running a $146,563 deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
After first discussing the issue the commissioners voted 3-1 to reduce the funding, with Livingston, Dossie Overfield and Lloyd Thiel voting in support, and Joe Tilden the lone vote in opposition.
On Tuesday Overfield and Thiel were not present for the final budget hearing and Livingston had a change of position. Commissioner Jake Fulkerson, who did not participate in the first vote, also voted for retaining support on its second go-around and Tilden continued his vote.
Livingston said it was a conversation with his father that solidified his change.
“He was pretty adamant about this recycling,” Livingston said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
A number of constituents showed up in support of the recycling facilities on Monday and Fulkerson said he received a much larger than usual amount of public feedback regarding the cuts. He said every comment he received was in favor of supporting the facilities.
“This is the most text messages I’ve had in 48 hours since I’ve been a commissioner,” Fulkerson said.
Hardy said selling cardboard has been a particular issue over the past year.
“Last year cardboard was our big money maker,” she said. “This year, we can’t even get rid of our cardboard.”
In early 2018 China banned import of certain plastics and paper meant for recycling. Up to that point, China had been receiving about 80 percent of U.S. recycling exports. Because of the ban plastic waste exports dropped nearly one-third in the U.S. from 2017 to 2018. The loss of sourcing puts pressure on small recycling municipalities because regional buyers are now reluctant to buy, due to fear of being unable to find export locations.
The organizations that are buying are doing so at extremely low prices, averaging around $5-$10 a ton, a stark contrast from prices that peaked at around $100 a ton a few years ago.
The commissioners primary reason for the cut was to supplant the $1.2 million that is being pulled from the county reserves to balance the budget. A big cause for this deficit is a $1.7 million cost for four road and bridge upgrades which is coming out of the county road and bridge fund – another reserve tank.
“It really is a transfer of $3 million or so out of the reserves,” former Park County Commissioner chairman Loren Grosskopf said.
The county typically keeps around $14 million sitting in reserves, a point that some from the public have criticized as a waste of taxpayer money.
Fulkerson said the reserve total is only a few million more than what the Wyoming County Commissioners Association recommends keeping on-hand, which the county uses as an emergency fund and to back up expenditures throughout the year.
“We want money to carry us through the year,” he said.
In all the county will have $24.9 million in total expenses this upcoming fiscal year.
Now the county will pull the funds that were going to be pulled from the recycling centers and will instead take from its $400,000 future coroner building it has planned for sometime in the next fiscal year.
Although the commissioners reiterated the decision to cut recycling funding was not taken lightly, no other outside-funded entity was proposed reduced funding.
Grosskopf said although he recalled prior across-the-board cuts, he said he never experienced a single entity being targeted like this.
“(Recycling) extends the life of the landfill so that’s a cost that also needs to be considered,” he said.
According to thebalancesmb.com it takes plastic bottles 450 years or more to decompose, aluminum cans 80-200 years, foam cups 50 years, while styrofoam never decomposes.
Even though it is a recyclable product, the Cody Recycling Center reports that about 40 percent of the average dump is filled with paper. Recycled paper can save 35 percent of the water pollution and 70 percent of the air pollution that is created from making new paper, the Recycling Center said.
Livingston and Fulkerson said the county will be analyzing ways to save money over the next few months, and will be scrutinizing all of its expenditures with a “laser” approach, rather than picking and signaling out certain targets. During this process Livingston said “everything will be on the table,” making the point that recycling centers could still be considered for cuts six months down the road.
Tilden plans to set up an advisory board moving forward to solve the county’s budget woes. He said he plans to recruit Grosskopf to serve on it.