Louisville Metro Council’s rejection of a tax hike brings Mayor Fischer’s proposed cuts closer to reality. Here’s what cuts could be heading our way
Nikki Boliaux, Louisville Courier Journal
Louisville’s dire budget crisis may close swimming pools and libraries, but one cut that causes heartburn for sustainability advocates is the city’s proposal to scale back recycling and yard-waste pickups.
If it’s ultimately approved, the change would halve collections, from weekly to twice monthly, starting July 1 for more than 100,000 households in Louisville’s urban services district (the old city boundaries).
Metro Louisville leaders have touted the city’s “green” initiatives and have set goals to reduce waste headed to the landfill by 90% by the year 2042.
During a budget hearing with Public Works Director Vanessa Burns on Wednesday, 9th district Councilman Bill Hollander questioned the financial benefits coming from reduction.
Read this: Louisville budget cuts mean it’ll take city longer to fill potholes, plow snow
Residents are more likely to cut their recycling, he said, when their bins overflow or they forget to put out items under the new schedule.
“I do think there will be less recycling frankly” because people could “get irritated” and throw recyclables in the trash, Hollander said.
The prediction was echoed Thursday by two members of Metro Louisville advisory committee on solid waste — Sarah Lynn Cunningham and Tim Darst. Both veteran activists questioned the city’s priorities, predicting that the change would lead to less recycling and more items tossed in the garbage and headed to the landfill.
The proposed reduction was included in the mayor’s recommended budget in April, but council members and many residents now have begun to focus on the impact as council members move toward a final budget vote on June 25.
Metro Louisville currently picks up paper, metal and plastic each week and sends them to contractor WestRock (formerly QRS) at 1010 Industrial Blvd. in south Louisville. There, the items are sorted, bundled and shipped to companies that process and reuse them.
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Crews also collect grass clippings, sticks and other yard waste and cart them to a compost site. Recycling and composting have become standard government services because the practices preserve landfill space, cut greenhouse gases and save energy.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says while he disagreed with Metro Council’s vote against his tax proposal, it’s his job to move foreward.
Jeff Faughender, Louisville Courier Journal
Metro Works and Solid Waste Management is expected to spend $55.7 million during this fiscal year, but Fischer has recommended holding the line to less than $55.3 million for fiscal 2019-20, which starts July 1.
Burns told Metro Council members that overtime pay is straining the budget because long-time workers are sidelined by repetitive stress injuries. Routinely, crews collect 20,000 pounds on a long route, then must circle back to other areas that have been missed because of the worker shortage.
Spending on overtime in recent years has hovered between $1.5 million and $2 million, but last year it increased substantially, Burns said, with $800,000 in expenditures by November, just five months into the fiscal year.
Asked how the city will get the word out about the revised schedules, Burns said the department will blast the information over email, social media and with an improved website.
Earlier: Fee increases, tax revenue that went into shrinking Louisville’s budget hole
The department is also asking residents to use an app called Recycle Coach, which provides texts and email reminders about bulky waste pickup dates, she said, as well as garbage, recycling, and yard-waste collection days.
“We really need to push that on our residents” in light of the changes to the services, Burns said.
Darst expects the changes will mean more problems with litter, overflowing bins and diminished levels of recycling overall. Bins typically fill up after a week, and in two weeks will overflow into yards and alleys, he said, adding that “a good storm will blow a lot of that around.”
“I think we could be creative and balance our budget” without cutting such a crucial service, Darst said.
Cunningham, likewise, was skeptical. It “definitely will reduce how much gets recycled and composted. Some homeowners might start composting their grass clippings and leaves. But once their bins are full, many residents will hide their yard waste and recyclables in their trash cans,” she wrote in an email.
“If citizens are going to lose important services, I’d like to see the true returns on the many millions of tax dollars the city has given to expensive, private hotels and other corporations,” Cunningham added.
Amy Mudd, a resident of Deer Park neighborhood west of Bardstown Road, said her family is “very committed” to recycling, and buys as much as possible in bulk to reduce containers and packaging. They might be able to make a two-week schedule work with their collections.
But overflowing bins are a problem without the changes, Mudd said. “Already there are things blowing down the alley.”
Grace Schneider: 502-582-4082; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @gesinfk. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/graces
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