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As recycling costs rise, Carroll County faces $840K hole in solid waste fund

Because recycling costs will be about $840,000 more expensive than predicted, Carroll County government is now faced with a new shortfall in the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget less than two weeks from its planned adoption date.

Carroll County Department of Public Works staff on Thursday appeared in the Board of County Commissioners meeting to explain potential effects on the county budget. According to Cliff Engle, bureau chief of solid waste, the county predicted the new recycling contract would cost about $1.34 million. In reality, they’re facing a cost of about $2.18 million.

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“You’re going to need to increase the [proposed] budget by $840,000 to accommodate this contract,” county administrator Roberta Windham told the commissioners.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get that from,” said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1.

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At $417.6 million, the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget is $1.2 million less than the fiscal year 2020 budget, with no tax increase. Throughout the budget process, commissioners have sought ways to save money without cutting services. Uncertainty over how the pandemic will affect the economy in the long term was a major factor in the commissioners’ decision-making process.

At the pace the recycling bid procurement process progressed this year, the county received the final and best offers from bidders in mid-April, according to Engle, after solid waste budget predictions were cast for fiscal year 2021.

“We put our budget together based on the best available information at the time,” Engle said in an interview.

The cost to transfer recycling increased from about $17 per ton to $34 per ton. Processing per ton increased from about $74 to $95, Engle said. The contract is with Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority for Recycling and Processing Services through Waste Management Recycle America LLC.

Additionally, Carroll County would retain about 75% of commodity value — what the recyclable materials are worth — in the new contract, as opposed to the 100% value in the current contract, Engle said.

The numbers were surprising, Engle said, but not completely unexpected. He knew costs would likely increase, but not by that amount. Engle partially attributed the increase to global and domestic changes in the recycling market.

In the past, recycling was a boon to the county, but now it’s an expense.

When the commissioners asked for solutions, Engle said the board could increase rates or take items out of the recycling stream.

“A big part of that is material values can fluctuate wildly,” Engle said in an interview. “Those values impact what the overall processing cost is.”

Engle said the county can attempt to negotiate a better price with the bidder.

The commissioners decided to put the discussion on hold until their next budget work session.

Budget work sessions are planned for May 21 and 23. The commissioners are scheduled to consider adopting the proposed budget on May 26.

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