Following public pushback, county decides to continue funding recycling efforts

Posted 7/11/19

Two weeks ago, Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston voted to cut the county’s support of local recycling efforts in half and save the county roughly $7,000.

However, after lobbying by …

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Following public pushback, county decides to continue funding recycling efforts


Two weeks ago, Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston voted to cut the county’s support of local recycling efforts in half and save the county roughly $7,000.

However, after lobbying by recycling advocates that included his own father, Livingston reversed course and voted to fully restore the funding on Tuesday.

“If they [Park County residents] feel that strongly about having it, let’s have it,” he said of recycling. Livingston joined with commissioners Jake Fulkerson and Joe Tilden to put the money back in the budget.

When the three formally voted to restore the funding to Powell Valley Recycling and the recycling operations run by the City of Cody and the Town of Meeteetse, a small audience of recycling supporters broke out in applause.

Commission Chairman Fulkerson, who’d received eight or nine text messages about the cut, called it a good example of how public input can make a difference. However, he cautioned that future funding could be in jeopardy, as the county looks to cut $2 million over the coming year.

“... It will be a business decision over the next six months — kind of like the City of Powell making the decision to take their trash to Billings instead of doing it here,” Fulkerson said. That was a reference to Powell leaders’ decision to truck the city’s garbage to Billings, where landfill rates are cheaper, instead of to the county’s landfill in Cody.

Commissioners had informally voted 3-2 to make the cut to recycling back on June 25, as they worked to narrow the budget deficit.

The money represents a tiny fraction of the county’s spending — less than 0.025 percent of the more than $28.36 million that commissioners authorized for the coming year. However, the initial decision to trim the recycling funding from $14,101 to $7,050 drew substantial public interest.


‘Please reconsider’

After learning that their organization stood to lose $4,423.68, three board members from Powell Valley Recycling attended Monday night’s public hearing on the budget to make their case.

“I just came tonight to implore you to please reconsider,” said board member Anna Hardy. “I know it’s not a huge number when you’re balancing a budget as big as the one you are all in charge of balancing, but it’s a big deal to us.”

Hardy said the market for recyclable materials that the Powell center collects has collapsed over the past year. Prices for cardboard — which is usually the biggest “moneymaker” for the center — have plummeted to the point where the Powell organization would actually have to pay money to have it taken off their hands.

“Our budget looks vastly different than it did last year, and it would be a big hardship to us to lose your funding,” Hardy told commissioners.

She added that area residents continue to bring large amounts of materials to the center, with huge stacks of cardboard and overflowing containers of aluminum cans dropped off over the weekend.

“Recycling is alive and well,” Hardy said, “but its future is uncertain if we don’t receive some funding.”

Another Powell Valley Recycling board member, Myron Heny, talked about recycling’s importance in reusing nonrenewable materials, while board president Marynell Oechsner spoke of the value the organization provides to the county by keeping material out of the landfill.

Park County Library System Director Frances Clymer also spoke up for recycling.

“We live in an area of pristine beauty,” she said, suggesting it spoils the environment to dump garbage in a landfill.

Cody resident Trisha Tamblyn made similar remarks.

“... If we’re talking about land conservation, protecting the environment, we really do need to keep money in the recycling funds, because that is what’s going to keep our land clean, that’s what’s going to protect the environment later on, protects the wildlife, it keeps the air quality up,” Tamblyn said. “I mean, there’s a mile-wide trash heap floating through the ocean right now.”

She also pressed commissioners multiple times on why the funding had been put on the chopping block in the first place.

“It was just one of the spots we felt we could cut,” offered Livingston.


A 3-0 vote

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel brought up the idea on June 25, recommending the county ax all $14,101 it gives to recycling efforts. Thiel said he couldn’t support something that “just loses money.”

“... We’re just subsidizing,” he said then. “I don’t think we get the benefit out of it.”

He later joined with Commissioners Dossie Overfield and Livingston to halve the funding, with Tilden and Fulkerson opposed.

But after hearing from the recyclers on Monday, Tilden encouraged his colleagues to reconsider their votes.

“Very rarely do we ever have a passionate outcry like we’ve heard here tonight,” he said.

Thiel said he appreciated the passion and comments, “and they are justified.” However, he noted that numerous cuts were made to help balance the budget.

“We do have to start somewhere,” Thiel said, adding, “There’s going to be further cuts, I think we can all agree on that, and I’d hate to jump back up from what we’ve gained.”

Meanwhile, Overfield softened her position.

“Maybe instead of the 50 percent cut it could be a 25 percent cut,” she suggested.

Although they shared informal thoughts on Monday, Overfield and Thiel missed Tuesday’s final budget vote; they attended a meeting in Lander about state funding being made available to counties for natural resource plans. Their absences basically left the recycling decision up to Livingston, as a unanimous 3-0 vote was needed to alter the budget.

In changing his mind and supporting the full $14,101, Livingston said he’d gotten “lined out” on Tuesday morning by his 81-year-old father, who’s a faithful recycler.

“He was pretty adamant about this recycling — [that] it’s the right thing to do,” Livingston said.

After the meeting, Livingston added that, “it’s something just like the library, it’s something that people want that we pay for.”

“As soon as people start coming and saying, ‘Get rid of it,’ then it will be a different deal,” he said.