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Miffed over tardiness of recycling report, commission calls special meeting

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 by Mark Richardson

Members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission will meet in a special called session Wednesday night to review and make recommendations on a staff proposal for changes in the city’s Commercial Multifamily Recycling Ordinance. City Council is scheduled to consider major changes in the ordinance at its Nov. 4 meeting.


Both the timing and the substances of the staff proposal ruffled some feathers among SWAC members last week, who put forth their own recycling plan several months ago. Solid Waste Services staff member Jessica King presented the department’s proposal for the Recycling Ordinance, but did not give SWAC members an advance copy of the report, nor was the item posted for action on the agenda. To make matters worse, some members said, there were no more regular SWAC meetings scheduled before the matter is set to go before the Council.


Members complained that they were given the plan with no time to study it beforehand, or to resolve the differences between it and SWAC’s own proposal, which was completed and sent to Council in June.


“I’m a little concerned that – while you have presented a wonderful package here — you are asking for recommendations here tonight,” said SWAC Chairman Gerry Acuña. “I wish that this had been included in the packet so we could have discussed this or at least have been a little more familiar with it.”


SWS Director Bob Gedert apologized for the lateness of the report, saying his staff was very busy.


“It is recognized that this is a late-coming report,” he said. “I think our staff has been working on this up to the last minute. Recognizing the shortness of your review time, and the details level here, if there is a desire to move that (the Nov. 4 hearing) back on the calendar, we can consult the Council calendar.”


Co-Chair Rick Cofer, who was visibly angered by the turn of events, said a special called meeting would be the only way for SWAC to consider the staff report and resolve any significant differences between the two.


“I think we can do the special called meeting, and what I’d request on that is that you get us a side-by-side comparison on the staff recommendation and the subcommittee recommendation,” Cofer said.” We can quibble on some of the details, but c’mon, you gotta meet us halfway. We made something like, I don’t know, 40 recommendations. I don’t know what you’re recommending that’s different from what we recommended, other than the six things up there. But I’m sure that there are more changes than that.”


Cofer continued, directly addressing King. “I didn’t see this until tonight and that’s not fair,” he said. “I’m not going to woodshed you about it but come on, we had a conversation about this.”


The ordinance, which has been in effect since 1999, is designed to extend the city’s recycling program to residents who live in apartments, townhouses, and condominiums, as well as many businesses. However, the current ordinance has run into numerous problems, as almost all Austin apartments and businesses have a commercial company collect their garbage, making compliance spotty at best.


Currently, the ordinance applies only to multifamily properties with 100 or more units and businesses with 100 or more employees, and is limited in the types of recycling that is collected.


Following the city’s adoption of a long-term Zero Waste Plan in 2009, the Council directed SWAC to name a subcommittee charged with developing an updated Recycling Ordinance that phased additional multifamily complexes and businesses into the program. After 14 public meetings to which 175 stakeholders were invited, the panel issued a report last summer, which the commission adopted and forwarded to the Council. (See In Fact Daily, June 26, 2010)


Some of the major provisions in SWS staff proposal include:


  • Renaming the measure the Universal Recycling Ordinance;
  • Phasing in smaller groups of multifamily units into the program over a four- year period;
  • Phasing in smaller businesses, based on their square footage, over a four- year period;
  • Expanding the types of businesses covered that will be offered recycling, including religious facilities, medical offices, restaurants, and hotels/motels;
  • Expanding the types of recyclable materials that must be collected;
  • Expand the SWS public information staff by four FTEs to administer a public education campaign about the program;
  • Require annual registration of all waste haulers in relation to the recycling program; and
  • Streamline the program’s reporting requirements.

The staff proposal also includes measures for uniform signs at recycling locations, design standards for recycling receptacles, and regulations on where recycling containers can be located.


SWAC members said they planned to take a hard look at some of the fees and costs proposed in the staff report, including a cost estimate of approximately $25 per month per dwelling unit for the program, and an estimated cost of $300,000 to develop a website to assist providers with reporting duties.


King said the staff considered a $2 per month utility customer recycling fee to cover some of the program’s cost, but were told by the City Attorney that such a fee was probably not legal.


The SWAC called meeting to discuss the recycling ordinance is set for 6pm on Wednesday night in Room 1029 (Staff Bullpen) at City Hall.

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