January 27, 2022

Cortland County prepares to take over recycling

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Bill Prindle, of Cortland, unloads cardboard off a pickup truck from The Local Food Market to the Cortland County Recycling Center on Thursday on Pendleton Street in Cortland.

Cortland County’s takeover of its recycling operation in January should be seamless and save the county $75,000 per year, county officials said Thursday.

Note the operative term: Should.

John Gale of Casella Waste Solutions, which operates the recycling center, said following a Solid Waste Committee meeting Tuesday that the county is basing its savings on bad numbers and the county will end up spending more to operate its recycling center.

“Maybe it’s not seamless,” Gale said. He questions not only whether the county would save money, but whether it could be as convenient to residents in part because county workers get
13 holidays a year, while Casella employees get only six.

“I’m prepared to support this if the figures show it,” said Legislator Jim Denkenberger (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton), who was sitting in on the committee meeting. “Where are the figures?”
Cortland County Landfill Manager Greg Ernst could not provide a breakdown of estimated costs and savings at the meeting, although he promised legislators a spreadsheet showing them.

Committee Chairman Charles Sudbrink (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet) has said that letting the contract with Casella lapse at the end of the year would save $240,000 a year, but the county would need to spend $165,000 a year in labor, transportation and equipment.

In fact, the committee voted unanimously Thursday to create two positions to operate the recycling center on Pendleton Street in Cortland, at an annual cost of $124,581, including benefits — a recycling equipment operator for between $16.08 and $19.96 an hour and a center attendant for $12.85 to $15.95 an hour.

Gale, however, said his payroll for the operation is only $123,632. The only other savings would be $14,911, which the county has had to pay Casella because the price for recycled materials fell so low earlier this year. That’s a cost elimination of $138,543. That’s more than a $100,000 gap from Sudbrink’s projection.

Ernst said the county, in addition to payroll, would save $440 per load of recyclables — about $69,000 a year — by hauling its own recyclables to Onondaga County. However, Gale said the county still has to put fuel in the truck and pay a driver. Krey added the county would also save the premiums paid to Casella when the market drops out of recyclables.

Sudbrink said Ernst, his boss Highway Superintendent Phil Krey and county Budget and Finance Director Peggy Mousaw met several times to iron out the numbers.

“To be honest, it’s just a projection,” Krey said, largely because the price of the recycled commodities fluctuates wildly.

Gale noted that while the county had to pay Casella a premium because the value of the recycled product was so low for the first five months of 2016, it didn’t have to pay anything in the second five months. Without having Ernst’s spreadsheet, Gale speculated that the county counted the $60,000 cost of recycling electronics as a savings, when it would have to pay that cost regardless of whether it or Casella handles them.