The debate has gone on since April: when Athens City Council members approve a contract with the Athens Hocking Recycling Center, how should the compost portion of the contract be structured, and in coordination with that, what should customers be charged?
Ultimately, both ordinances involving the contract were tabled until next Monday, May 25, to allow for clarity on the rate changes and for the ordinance to specify how the composting program will be rolled out.
There are three options for the composting rollout:
- Citywide: Where a rate is established that involves every customer in the city and applied universally, regardless of whether the service is used by any individual customer.
- Opt-out: Where a rate is established based on an expected number of households that choose to stay within the program or do not notice the increase based on compost charges. Customers would be able to opt-out by contacting the Water Office.
- Opt-in: No one would automatically be enrolled in the program, and rates would be established based on how many households are expected to participate based on pilot program data.
If no composting were to be added, waste rates would rise by at least $3.29 per unit. For an opt-out program, no specific numbers have been calculated and made public yet. However, Council Member Sam Crowl said he would expect that rate to be between $3.29 and $6.33 per unit.
He noted that typically, opt-out programs tend to have more participants than opt-in programs, and that by working with the Athens Code Enforcement Director David Riggs, it was determined that all increases to waste and recycling rates will be 46 percent or below. Optional costs that were included in the contract bid, such as uniform trash cans for every residence, have not been included in the rate increases, and at this point it appears they won’t be used.
Council Member Arian Smedley said that the question regarding the contract is not whether someone is morally opposed or supportive of composting, but whether implementing a citywide cost would be a responsible move.
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our economy. I’m concerned about those who have filed for unemployment,” she said. “Reality is the contract presented to us will result in (rate) increases. So the challenge is, how much of a citywide increase do we impose, and my response is that at this time, it should be as little as possible.”
She advocated for an opt-in program for the city, and said she would not support a mandatory citywide fee for composting. She also said she would be in favor of a break-even fee schedule for waste and recycling.
Council Member Sarah Grace slightly disagreed.
“A citywide program would be phenomenal, but an opt-out is the second-best. If people are struggling to pay their bills or don’t want to support this city-wide, they can call or stop by the city water office and ask to have that removed,” she said. “I think we have many residents in this community who likely wouldn’t really notice the fee, or if they did, but are not choosing to participate, would not mind supporting it as a benefit to the rest of the city. I think they would pay, even without using the service, and I think that this is something that we do for so many good for society, good for our community programs.”
She noted that if there is a barrier, then an opt-out program would allow for individual households to not pay the composting fee and not have that service.
Council Member Beth Clodfelter noted she had received 42 emails in favor and 14 against the composting program before the Monday, May 18 meeting.
“There’s definitely strong feelings on both sides, but a lot of people who want to participate,” she said.
Smedley advocated once more for low-income residents of the city.
“Opt-in is the more honest approach, because we are not imposing a fee on people unbeknownst to them that they’d rather not (pay), or don’t know anything about,” she argued. “I understand the desire for opt out, but I do like options for this program at this time.”
The contract, when excepted, will last for three years. The current contract expires June 30, 2020. Currently, there are about 150 households using the pilot curbside composting program, with a rate of $20.65 per month. The matter will be revisited at the May 25 Special Council Meeting.
Conversation surrounding a new waste contract has been ongoing since May 2019, when the city received a drastically lower bid amount for the city’s contract from a Heath-based company with ties to The Plains. At the time, concerns were raised that the contract had been deliberately under-bid by the competing company, Waste Away Systems, and that the company would end up going under in an attempt to maintain the contract.
In addition, Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers executive director Bruce Underwood noted at the time that the loss of the city contract would likely spell the end of the non-profit business.
In the past, then-Service-Safety Director Andy Stone explained in March 2019, the contract had gone to the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District due to it being a governmental agency. When the District became a nonprofit entity (known now as AHRC), the city could no longer single-source the matter without putting services up for bid. In 2015, the city requested proposals and received two bids, with AHRC selected upon being the cheapest.