two thousand twenty
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By John Addyman
Sharon Lilla

   LYONS (Sep 30 10) – With rain pouring down outside, water rising in the streets and people worried about their basements on this dark afternoon, Sharon Lilla pushed her chair back from her desk, edged into the corner next to her computer screen, and put her hand to her face…thinking.
   What happened to recycling in Wayne County? Why did the board of supervisors kill a program that had been in place for 10 years?

   Lilla, the county planning director and administrator for the Western Finger Lakes Solid Waste Authority, had some of the answers.
   She’d had a difficult week. The Board of Supervisors voted the county out of the curbside-recyclables-collection business Tuesday morning; on Tuesday afternoon, she had to tell five drivers they were going to lose their jobs Jan. 1. More layoffs are coming soon, at the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) in Arcadia. “A good percentage” of the 14 people who work for the MRF will be affected.
   “I’m disappointed,” Lilla said. Had the county accepted the $300,000 grant the recycling program had just received to buy trucks, larger-capacity trucks, “we would have been in a position to go to weekly curbside collection, which would have increased participation in the program, would have increased throughput at the MRF and brought in more money, and in the end, would increase the level of recycling in the county.”
   Her points are academic now. The curbside program will be in the hands of private waste haulers on Jan. 1, who were urged by one supervisor to be “creative” in handling the load without overcharging people for the service…or without going out of business trying to provide the service.
   The debate on the recycling program’s cost to Wayne County taxpayers, on fears that collection costs will rise unchecked, and the concern that if that happens, people will simply stop recycling…is quiet for the moment.
   But as Lilla pointed out in describing a short history of the program, county residents with longer memories may yet be treated to perplexing, head-scratching déjà vu.
   The first reason the county program is dead, Lilla said, “is the protracted period of indecision. The program has been in a state of limbo where it was difficult to make a decision about funding and maintaining the status quo and following the unspoken mandate from the board of supervisors to keep costs low.” That’s been going on since 2005.
   “By 2008, we had put enough money away ($300,00) to begin a truck-replacement program. We submitted our budget to the county.” She said the earnings from the market for recycled glass, plastic, newsprint and cardboard had been level since 2003. She was comfortable the recycling program could continue to make enough money to support the equipment-replacement program.
   “Then, in October of 2008, the markets collapsed,” she said. Recycled materials are a commodity, and on the open market, they lost their value – substantially. Lilla ended up using the $300,000 in the bank to help fund the program in 2009, keeping the tax burden low.
   Along came President Obama’s stimulus money, and Lilla asked the county to okay applying for $500,000 in grants to start replacing trucks. Going through a NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) process, and asking for five hybrid-power heavy-duty trucks, Lilla felt the grant had a shot at success.
   But County Administrator Jim Marquette, knowing the sensitivity of the supervisors to the recycling program, also pushed, and prioritized, a grant for an energy audit/lighting replacement program that would save county money.
   Lilla knew which application would have priority, but she still ended up getting $300,000 for her trucks. But when it came time to approve the grant and take the money, the board of supervisors declined, pre-ordaining the vote Tuesday morning that backed Wayne County out of the recycling business.
   The waste authority was formed in 1986 with Ontario, Yates, Wayne and Seneca counties participating. Ontario County withdrew within two years, but in 1988, the first collection program was ready to proceed. At the outset, private haulers said they would take care of the recyclables if the authority would build a MRF. The authority did. Six months later, haulers realized they’d miscalculated.
   “Six months into the program, we had a meeting with the haulers and they presented us with a bill for $400,000,” Lilla said. “They said they could handle the industrial and commercial recycling, but not the residential recycling. That’s how our curbside program was born.”
   The curbside-collection program began as a bid-out service. Six western towns were served by Ruloff, three middle towns by DayStar and three eastern towns by Wade’s Disposal in a program that went from 1991 to 1996. By the time the county was ready to bid the curbside-pickup program in 1996, the landscape had changed.
   Ruloff’s and DayStar had been bought out by Waste Management, and Wade’s had been taken over by Casella. In the 1996 bidding, Waste Management took the western county business and Casella did the rest. Cost for the program -- $625,000.
   “We were concerned about the absence of competition,” Lilla said.
   In 2001, the program was ready to be bid out again. “We felt the bids were going a lot higher. We believed we could do it better, cheaper and provide better service, and have more local control over employees. We wouldn’t have to call a corporate office if there was a problem.”
   She said the county program offered something else, a level of service she didn’t expect private haulers to emulate. “If a physically challenged person couldn’t get the blue bins to the curb for a private hauler – well, too bad. For us, though, that was something we took care of,” Lilla said.
   The county got into the curbside-collection business in 2001 and the first year, the program cost $500,000. But by 2007, costs started to rise because of maintenance and repairs required on the truck fleet.
   And things began to simmer in 2005, when a move to privatization began to grip the board of supervisors. As long as the recycling program kept its costs below $1 million, the supervisors would be placated. In 2010, however, costs rose above that mark and the move to privatize became a chorus.
   “Ours is the only fleet that has to travel every road in Wayne County every other week,” Lilla said. “My hat is off to the staff of the MRF and our drivers. They have kept the program going. They are unsung heroes.”
   She said she understands the principal argument made by some supervisors that businesses do not get the benefit of recycling services, even though they are taxed for it – it is a benefit to homeowners.
   But in truth, the same could be said for a myriad of other services provided to the people of Wayne County which businesses help pay for, and derive little benefit. It is the employees of those companies who derive the benefits of the county’s social programs.
   In the discussions about costs, Lilla’s salary has come up. She makes $66,287 as the director of planning for the county, and is paid a stipend of $24,934 to serve as administrator of the recycling authority – pretty much what she was paid in the first year of the program, 1986.  
   Did the county recycling program provide better service?
   Was it cheaper to operate as a tax-paid service than what private haulers will charge residents in fees?
   Will residents who dutifully recycle now because the county has made it cheap and easy suddenly drop out of the program next year because of what private haulers do?
   Is the MRF doomed?
   Will we repeat all of this again?
   …who knows?



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  1. Anonymous Said,

    costs to taxpayers were the problem. It's about time this political hole got the plug pulled.

    Posted on Thu Sep 30, 08:54:00 PM EDT

  2. Sarah Zaso Said,

    Um by 2008 you JUST started putting money away for truck repair or replacement? Didn't it occur to you BEFORE then that they would need to be replaced? Sounds like mismanagement to me.

    Since Ms. Lilla was in charge of budgets doesn't that make the failure HERS and NOT The Board of Supervisors?

    Maybe Ms. Lilla should take the blame for misleading the public how great the program was doing when really it wasn't THAT Ms. Lilla is on YOU

    Posted on Thu Sep 30, 09:17:00 PM EDT

  3. Anonymous Said,

    I certainly hope the $25K Ms. Lilla received for her leadership will be passed down to the taxpayers, as well as the savings from the employees to be let go. It's about time this "club" was closed. MRF also needs to go. Government should NOT be in this business.

    Posted on Fri Oct 01, 10:01:00 AM EDT

  4. Anonymous Said,

    Curbside recycling was one great benefit of living in Wayne Cty. and now that is taken away. So much for "Green Initiative" efforts. Maybe we could bring our recyclables to our county supervisors who voted the program out instead of making the trip to Alpco.

    Posted on Fri Oct 01, 12:28:00 PM EDT

  5. Anonymous Said,

    Sarah Baby,

    If ignorance is bliss, you must be in HEAVEN!!!

    Posted on Fri Oct 01, 07:46:00 PM EDT


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