Martha Sauerbrey

The Tioga County Legislature is proposing to do away with the county’s longstanding countywide weekly curbside recycling program. 

On Sept. 23 a public hearing was held at the Tioga County Courthouse on the issue of how recycling will be handled in Tioga County. 

Tioga Legislature Chair Martha Sauerbrey reminded all those present they would have three minutes to speak, keep it respectful, and the legislators would not be answering any questions. 

Ellen Pratt, Tioga County sustainability manager, spoke first, reviewing a history of the 1992 law brought on by the NYS Solid Waste Act of 1988. The law ordered the separation of recycling from solid waste, Pratt said. 

As a result, the county’s current program is weekly countywide curbside recycling, but the contract with the current hauler expires at the end of this year, and the legislature went out for bid in June. 

“The lowest bid came back more than double the cost of our current plan, and it was for half the service for an increase of $1.26 million annually,” states a press release sent out by the county on Sept. 24, the day after the public hearing. 

The lowest bid was $2.48 million per year, or $12.4 million over the course of the five-year contract, according to county officials, who said the increase is primarily due to the plummeting of recycling commodity prices, increases in wages, and increases in equipment and materials. 

“What we have heard from the community is they are willing to pay more to keep the same program,” the press release states. “However, it is not that simple.”

New York State municipalities have a two-percent property tax cap, the press release explains. It goes on to say that based on the 2020 budget numbers, the new recycling cost calculated in the property tax equates to a 5.1-percent increase in property tax. 

That means when property owners receive their town and county tax bill in January, the line item for recycling would more than double, and there would be an increase of 5.1 percent in the regular property tax. 

 The county is already currently experiencing a 20-percent cut in funding from the state, according to officials. 

“We also have a nine-percent reduction in sales tax to date,” the press release states, adding, that income from Tioga Downs is “non-existent” at this time. 

“Because of all of this, we know that we will need to draw from our fund balance to cover budget costs for three to five years to recover from the COVID-19 experience,” the press release states. “The bottom line is that this is a decision based on providing service and spending tax dollars wisely.”

The current plan for Tioga County is the following: If your garbage is collected at your curb, the hauler you choose will be providing recycling, likely with a surcharge. 

Residents who bring their garbage to a transfer station or landfill should bring their recycling with them and place it in the appropriate location. There may be a charge. 

If your municipality collects your garbage, it will provide recycling collection, the press release states.

The decision to discontinue countywide recycling flies in the face of many comments made by residents during the public hearing.

When the meeting opened to the public, Esther Wood from B&E Disposal Service, in Nichols, asked as a business owner, “If we pick up recycling as well where do we go? Will Taylor’s take it and what will the cost be?”  She went on to complain about having only three month’s notice. 

“Local haulers don’t know where we can take the recycling, and customers will need to know if they choose to take their own,” she said. Wood went on to say, “as a resident I would rather pay higher taxes; I am afraid folks will be discouraged and not recycle.”  

Newark Valley Village Mayor Jim Tornatore said he is seeking assistance for the Newark Valley Village trash haulers. “We need to get moving on this, and I am seeking additional information, such as how much tonnage can we send and will Taylor’s take it.”  

Anne Millizari of Apalachin presented a petition with the signatures of 625 residents who all want Tioga County’s recycling program to continue as is. 

Doug Barton of Owego stated this idea of dropping the curbside recycling is shortsighted and not good for customers. He stated Tioga County has had a long history with Taylor’ and said the legislature hasn’t done their homework. He brought up the cost of gas and said many residents are burning their refuse.  

“Tourism will have a new motto: ‘Welcome to the littered gateway to the Fingerlakes,’” Barton said.   

Cynthia Harrick, of Richford, questioned where the residents will go with their recycling. “Since the town has a garbage truck, will the town be required to pick up the recycling, which could mean a higher tax for the town?” she asked. “This pushes the entire cost on towns and residents.”  

Kevin Millar, of Owego, said, “Nobody likes to raise taxes, but it could actually cost residents more than the county raising the taxes.” He mentioned his fear that garbage and recycling could end up along the roads and in streams. 

Spencer resident Rick Rogers, retired Spencer/VanEtten school teacher and a member of their board of education talked about dedicating his life to teaching children. One thing he has taught is how important recycling is. “The garbage goes to landfills and are contributors to the methane causing climate change.  

Sister Mary O’Brien, of Rural Ministry in Owego, remarked being at this hearing was helping her learn new information, and she was surprised the private haulers don’t have more information.  “What will the county say to our youth about recycling? I think we need more time and information before a decision is made.” 

The public hearing closed at 6:45pm.  Sauerbrey said written comments will be accepted until October 1 at recyclingcomments@co.tioga.ny.us; or residents can mail in comments or call the county. 

According to the county’s research, only three out of the 62 counties in New York State have countywide curbside recycling funded through their county. Most counties do not provide countywide curbside recycling and require the private haulers and municipalities that provide garbage pickup to also collect recycling.   

If the legislature goes through with the plan outlined in its press release, the recycling tax line will be removed from the property tax bills completely. 

“No one really likes change,” the press release states, “and we certainly would like to keep weekly curbside recycling program; however, the overall costs of maintaining the program outweigh the convenience of the program.”

Written comments will be accepted until Oct. 1 at recyclingcomments@co.tioga.ny.us.

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