Community forum crowd wants bi-weekly recycling pickup treated like essential city service; aldermen get first chance to vote on Monday

Recycling forum

A crowd of about 100 people filled the City Council chambers Wednesday night for a community forum on recycling. | David Adam

QUINCY — Two ideas about the future of recycling seemed to rise above all the rest during Wednesday’s community forum about the city of Quincy’s proposed recycling ordinance.

About 100 people filled the City Council chambers, offering suggestions and questions about recycling. Quincy Mayor Mike Troup served as the moderator of the forum, and near the end, he asked the crowd if it would prefer the city adopt bi-weekly curbside pickup — the city currently picks up curbside weekly — and maintain a $5 monthly charge.

Most people raised their hands. Only a few dropped them when Troup asked if they would still want bi-weekly curbside pickup for $10 a month.

In fact, most in attendance didn’t seem to care what the cost of curbside recycling could be. They believe recycling is an essential service a city should provide like water, garbage collection and police and fire protection.

Were the people at the forum a vocal minority? Or did they raise enough questions to sway 14 aldermen, who will get their first chance to vote on an ordinance that would eliminate curbside recycling and create three drop-off locations around the city?

Alderman Mike Farha, R-4, said after the forum that he got the message. 

“In 2001, when I was involved in another campaign, I was not thinking that the garbage stickers were fair, but the public rebuked me,” he said. “I learned my lesson.

“They want recycling, and it is just as much an essential service as garbage. How we pay for it, how we fund Central Services, the fire department, 911, the police … all those things are essential. That’s our legitimate function. There are a lot of things we’re getting involved in that are not our legitimate function. I think the public made clear this is what they want, so I’m supportive of what they want.”

Jack Holtschlag, D-7, wasn’t as convinced afterward, noting the city’s recycling program lost $254,750 during fiscal year 2022 and is projected to lose $319,917 in fiscal year 2023. Before the $5 surcharge was added, the program lost more than $430,000 for eight consecutive years.

“They want the curbside, but I mean, is it feasible?” he said. “(Recycling is) an essential service. We’re not taking it away, but you’ve just got to chip in a little bit more and take it to the proper place.

“A lot of what I heard tonight seemed like a lot of the same stuff from the same people at the last (community forum on July 6). That’s why I suggested other people call their alderman.”

The proposed ordinance calls for multiple bins to collect plastics, paper and glass at yet-to-be determined sites on the city’s northwest, southwest and east sections. A private hauler would be contracted to provide curbside pickup, and the four employees now assigned to recycling would be given new jobs with other city departments. The program would launch in March 2023 if alderman approve the ordinance.

Katie Stegner was one of the most vocal opponents to the proposed ordinance, calling it a “travesty” and describing the garbage and recycling situation as “laughable.” 

One of the reasons the city is proposing elimination of curbside pickup is that nearly $1 million needs to be spent to replace three aging trucks. 

“Well, poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part,” Stegner told city officials. “We know we’re going to have to replace trucks. That needs to be part of your long-term plan.”

A bi-weekly curbside pickup program would call for only two new trucks to be bought.

Stegner said she believes the proposed ordinance was presented as if it’s already “a done deal.” However, Conte repeated multiple times during the forum that bi-weekly curbside pickup remains an option.

“They claim they haven’t made up their mind, but, you know, it doesn’t feel that way,” Stegner said. “Maybe it was the presentation. Maybe it was just the way they were talking about it the whole time. I just feel like they’ve made up their mind. They’re presenting this one idea, and I’m sorry.”

Conte, director of administrative services Jeff Mays and comptroller Shari Ray spoke for the first 20-25 minutes. They explained how and why the proposed ordinance was created.

They told the crowd that less than 40 percent of the city’s households currently participate in the curbside recycling program, and that the tonnage of recycled material collected went from 1,817 tons in fiscal year 2012 to 918 tons (a 49.4 percent drop) in fiscal year 2022. The city added a $5 surcharge for recycling to the water bill for the first time in fiscal year 2020 for people who elected to participate.

Troup then read a collection of questions submitted on index cards by the audience. Some were repetitive, some were contentious, and some had nothing to do with recycling (like garbage stickers and the 48th and State roundabout). City officials then listened to people from the crowd as they stood at the podium used for City Council meetings.

Despite grumblings at times from the crowd, Mays was pleased to see the interest in recycling.

“The aldermen are going be able to determine whether (Wednesday night’s crowd is) representative or not,” he said. “I’ve been around the block. All discussion is good, even if it’s not exactly the way you’d like it to be. At the end of the day, I think the discussion is lightyears forward from where we were.”

Mays, Conte and John Schafer, assistant director of Central Services, said after the meeting they had contacted 13 similar-sized cities. They learned most of them offer privatized garbage and recycling.

“Then you have people paying the market rate for garbage and recycle. In Quincy, they’re not paying market rate if they’re using the city service,” Conte said.

Conte was glad to hear people complain about a lack of marketing and promotion of the city’s recycling program. Only people who sign up for city water service typically are told about the program. He believes more should be done.

“The people who showed up here are very committed to recycling,” Conte said. “They see a change to the program, and they’re concerned. So they show up.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Katie Stegner’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.

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