FLORENCE — The City Council voted Tuesday to raise residential and commercial garbage rates, although the vote was not unanimous.
The council approved raising residential rates $4 a month, bringing the total to $16, and increasing commercial rates 45 percent.
Mayor Mickey Haddock said the increases balance costs for both services, and will begin to eliminate a deficit of $1 million in the Solid Waste Fund.
Haddock, who recommended the rate increases, said the fiscal year is half gone, so the deficit won’t be completely eliminated until some time in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Councilman Hermon Graham voted against the increases, saying the council should have continued using the sanitary landfill another five years with a commercial rate increase. He said city Treasurer Dan Barger told the council a year ago the rate increase would have allowed the landfill to operate until its capacity expired.
Instead, the council voted in late 2011 to close the landfill and have a contractor haul garbage to a regional landfill in Mississippi.
“I felt we were not maximizing our investment,” Graham said.
The changes will be advertised in the newspaper and will be become effective in about 30 days.
During the work session before the regular meeting, a lengthy discussion — in part for the benefit of dozens of high school students taking park in Youth in Government Day — revealed a less-than-unanimous council on the topic of solid waste.
Councilman Barry Morris, who supported the rate hikes, questioned Barger on revenues and expenditures in the curbside recycling program. Barger said the city subsidizes recycling with about $500,000 a year.
“I know that makes you feel warm and fuzzy,” Morris said, referring to people’s desire to recycle waste as an earth-friendly activity, “but it uses more resources than it saves.”
Morris said the cost associated with curbside recycling is higher than the benefit derived from it.
“I dare say there is not a municipality in this country that is breaking even on recycling,” he said.
Barger said another way to look at it is through transportation costs. He said had the city not operated curbside recycling in 2011, an additional $97,000 would have been spent transporting household and commercial garbage to a landfill.
“So, by getting more people to recycle, we could save money by hauling less garbage out of state,” Councilman Blake Edwards asked.
“In a word, yes,” Barger replied.
The participation rate in curbside recycling is about 30 percent, Barger said.
Graham said it makes sense to encourage more people to recycle.
“The purpose of recycling was to save space in the landfill,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable to think we can get to 50 percent participation. The more we haul to the landfill, the more it will cost us, and the sooner that landfill will fill up.”
The Street and Sanitation Department is beginning to distribute blue curbside recycling carts to selected neighborhoods to test whether the carts will encourage more household recycling.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.