County, town talk 50-50 split on operations cost

A popular recycling center in Willits will remain open for the time being after the town of Basalt and Pitkin County discussed an informal agreement during Tuesday evening’s joint meeting.

The county is looking at a 50-50 share of costs with the town to keep the needed facility operating and recyclables out of the landfill.

Basalt had said it would no longer help fund the facility, which is operated by Waste Management, come the end of April. The town has been subsidizing the recycling drop-off center to the tune of $3,300 per month since September.

Waste Management has said that the facility, which is located in Basalt’s so-called industrial park on Park Avenue, isn’t profitable enough to keep it open, necessitating the subsidy.

The high cost of recycling service is being compounded by the commodity markets falling drastically in the past few years, putting many recycling drop-off centers in the red.

Commissioner Rachel Richards said Tuesday that the price of recyclables has “gone through the floor,” while shipping prices remain high.

County Manager Jon Peacock said the drop-off sites around the county and in municipalities have grown organically over the past 15 years, and a more equitable system is needed to cover the costs.

“That’s probably a polite way of saying we did it differently everywhere,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily created in an equitable fashion for how municipalities have been participating with the county on how to fund and manage the sites.”

But some changes have helped cut costs down a bit.

Peacock said that in 2014 the county’s cost was $350,000 for operations at facilities in Basalt, Snowmass and Aspen, but that number has since been pared to $289,000.

“We sought to really kind of settle on a simple, understandable and equitable partnership model,” he told the town council. “It’s really a 50-50 spilt on the costs of managing the sites, and right now Basalt is, at least temporarily, putting in 100 percent of that bill.”

The tentative agreement would lead to both Basalt and the county paying $23,300 each for the recycling operation.

But Peacock noted that while other partners may be sought to help cover the Basalt facility’s cost, the 50-50 split is the first step.

Due to its unique geographical location, people from many jurisdictions are using the recycling center.

A survey taken at the Willits facility noted that the largest group of users come from Eagle County (44 percent), followed roughly by Pitkin (35 percent) and Garfield (20 percent) counties. A couple residents from Gunnison County also utilized the drop-off site, the survey noted.

Council member Rob Leavitt inquired about the long-term vision for recycling in Basalt.

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon replied the “two-part strategy” is a pay-to-throw model as well as a required recycling model.

“In a pay-as-you-throw model, what you want to do is move people to larger bulk recycling and smaller trash,” he said. “The idea is to conserve the landfill.”

Scanlon added that around 40 percent of people surveyed at the drop-off site either didn’t know who their waste hauler is or didn’t have one altogether.

“Which means we’re serving a need in the community that necessarily isn’t being served at the curb side,” he said. “We are running in Basalt a regional recycling site.”

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the life of the Pitkin County landfill is just one of many issues that relate to growth in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“We talk about water, we talk about traffic, but the landfill is a big issue,” he said. “It’s not like we have a ton of places to put [landfills].”

Tennenbaum said a larger discussion about growth needs to take place, and that Garfield County and Carbondale should be brought to the table.

“Where are we going to put all of the trash?” he said. “More growth, more people, more businesses will create more trash, and what do you do with it? You can’t recycle it all, you can’t compost it all.