County slashes funding for recycling

Posted 7/2/19

Park County commissioners plan to cut their support of the Powell, Cody and Meeteetse recycling programs in the coming year.

In a split 3-2 decision last week, commissioners opted to halve their …

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County slashes funding for recycling


Park County commissioners plan to cut their support of the Powell, Cody and Meeteetse recycling programs in the coming year.

In a split 3-2 decision last week, commissioners opted to halve their support of recycling efforts around the county. In their budget draft, commissioners have set aside $7,050, down from $14,100 a year ago.

Powell Valley Recycling is set to lose $4,423, the City of Cody nearly $2,190 and Meeteetse $438.

The cuts came as commissioners looked for ways to balance their budget on Tuesday afternoon. Commissioner Lloyd Thiel suggested that, with finances tight, the county should stop providing any funds for recycling. While saying he’d be “the bad guy” for making the suggestion, Thiel took issue with the fact that recycling doesn’t pay for itself; he said he couldn’t support something that “flat-out just loses money and goes backwards.”

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re just subsidizing,” Thiel said. “I don’t think we get the benefit out of it.”

Commissioners Joe Tilden and Jake Fulkerson unsuccessfully lobbied to leave the full $14,101 funding intact.

Fulkerson said he was uncomfortable with cutting the recyclers’ dollars without giving them a chance to plead their case.

“Good or bad, we have set the expectation of this funding,” Fulkerson said.

Tilden, meanwhile, noted the popularity of recycling among local residents.

“We don’t need to be in the recycling business. It does not pay,” he said. “But there’s so many people in this county that believe in recycling.”

Thiel countered that, if people feel strongly about recycling and “they feel warm and fuzzy, then let them pay for it.”

Commissioner Lee Livingston suggested cutting the funding in half as a compromise, to which Commissioner Dossie Overfield and Thiel agreed.

If Park County’s recycling programs went away completely, Overfield wondered if people might discard more items along the county’s roads.

Park County Landfill Manager Tim Waddell offered that recyclers don’t take in that much material in comparison to what’s trashed. He said it’s generally cheaper to bury recyclables in a landfill, but people want the option to recycle.

“They don’t have any idea of what it costs or how to pay for it or if it loses money,” Waddell said, “but …”

“They feel good,” finished Fulkerson.

Local recyclers have long contended that although it isn’t profitable, recycling is the right thing to do. Things have been particularly tough for recyclers lately, with commodities like cardboard — that once were marginally profitable — now fetching extremely low prices.

Both Powell Valley Recycling, which is a private nonprofit organization, and the City of Cody’s recycling center rely on fees assessed on city residents’ utility bills.

The county’s funding for the recycling efforts is part of its “Special Funding Requests,” which total around $348,600, or roughly 1.2 percent, of the county’s total appropriations in the draft budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Around two dozen different organizations receive money from that account.

Responding to Thiel’s concern that the county is subsidizing recycling, Fulkerson offered that, “I hate subsidies, but go down the list [of special requests … I mean, they’re all subsidies.”

For example, the county will again send $26,000 to Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources, a group that helps subsidize commercial flights at the Cody airport. (That’s in addition to the $132,226 it plans to send to help fund Yellowstone Regional Airport’s operations.)

The biggest chunk of the county’s special funding is a $50,000 contribution set to go to Yellowstone Behavioral Health. That’s up more than $10,000 a year ago, after the nonprofit reported that the organization is seeing an increase in the number of risk assessments it needs to conduct for potentially suicidal people. Yellowstone Behavioral Health’s executive director, Mark Russler, told commissioners the assessments are keeping people safe and saving money, assisting people who might otherwise have to be detained against their will at county expense.

However, Russler said the organization was having a tough time covering the costs of the additional assessments.

“It’s just exceeding our costs,” he said.

Yellowstone Behavioral Health requested $76,020 this year. Commissioners initially agreed to provide $60,000 before trimming it back to $50,000 last week.

The next-largest recipients of the county’s special funding are the Powell and Cody senior citizens centers, which are each set to receive $47,424. Other groups in-line for funding include the Powell, Cody and Meeteetse economic development organizations, the Powell and Cody animal shelters, Youth Clubs of Park County, the Cody Shooting Complex, Crisis Intervention Services, Park County 4-H, the Cody food pantry Mannahouse and a Wyoming Game and Fish Department program that helps private landowners in bear country dispose of livestock carcasses.

The discussion about the recycling program funding came as commissioners were chopping more than $1 million out of the budget.

By halving the recyclers’ funding, “we’re not going to gain a whole lot,” Overfield observed.

“It doesn’t matter that we’re not gaining a whole lot,” Livingston countered. “We’re gaining something, you know?”

Commissioners noted they’d made budget tweaks as small as $500 during their days of deliberations.

The budget won’t be finalized until July 9, after being presented at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on July 8.