James City County and the Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority agreed on a five-year $1.8 million contract for curbside recyclables collection. While citizens are expected to foot the increased cost, the details on how they will be billed, and how much, are still being hashed out.
The upcoming contract is a marked increase in cost compared to the current five-year collection contract between the county and the service authority. James City earmarked $525,767 for the contract in the the fiscal year 2019 budget.
The increase comes as a result of a Chinese ban on imports of recyclables from the United States. China announced a ban on certain materials in 2017 and expanded it last spring. In August, the Chinese announced a tariff on all scrap imports, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
That’s a problem for American scrap sellers. In 2017, the United States exported $5.6 billion worth of recyclables to China, which accounted for a third of total American scrap exports. In the first six months of 2018, the United States exported $2.2 billion in scrap to China, which is a 24 percent decrease from the same time period in 2017.
The trickle-down effect is that James City County now has a bigger recycling collection bill. The county contracts with the service authority, which in turn hires a contractor to do the pickups. Contractors make money through fees and sales of recyclable materials, so if sales revenue goes down, fees go up.
Currently, County Waste contracts with the service authority to collect curbside recycling. Come June 30, that agreement ends, and the following day Tidewater Fiber Corp. takes up the task.
The county intends to keep its funding allocation for recycling level. The remaining difference will be paid by residents who opt-in to recycling collection. The cost to residents is expected to be $5 to $6 per month, and households would be billed quarterly, General Services Director Grace Boone said at the Board of Supervisors work session on Tuesday.
At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the contract. If all four localities — Williamsburg, James City, York and Poquoson — approve the contract, the service authority will move forward with its contractor.
But questions still remain — namely, how will residents be billed, and exactly how much will they be billed?
“It’s going to be a lot of communication up front. We’re still working through a lot of those processes,” Boone said.
County staff has explored several billing options since the board expressed its preference to split costs between the county and residents who want to pay for recycling collection in November.
Thought was given to handling billing through the Hampton Roads Utility Billing Service program and collection through James City Service Authority, but it turns out that under state law, the authority can’t bill or collect fees for the recycling since it doesn’t provide the service itself, Boone said.
A bill through Hampton Roads Utility Billing Service that’s collected through the county government is another option, though what that may cost hasn’t yet been determined, Boone said.
VPPSA was considered, but it doesn’t have the resources to handle billing on the scale proposed — more than 25,000 households in the county recycle under the current contract. The county treasurer’s office also is under consideration, Boone said.
Regardless of how residents are billed, the cost to them is still expected to be $5 to $6 monthly.
Currently, the county pays $1.58 per household, per month. The total per household, per month cost of the new contract is expected to total $7.20.
Both the billing method and cost to residents are expected to be finalized during the budget process, James City County Administrator Scott Stevens said.
Stevens suggested sending a bill to all residents who currently recycle in late May. The county will then have an an idea of who’s in and who’s out based on who sends back a check.
“We have a very high percentage who do recycle. I do think of the 25,000, you’ll have 15,000 plus who will choose to pay a reasonable fee,” Stevens said.
And what about your recycling cart? You might be able to keep it. County Waste and Tidewater Fibre Corp. are in talks about the former selling its carts to the latter.
“The carts that are on the street right now are owned by County Waste and there’s a significant benefit to everybody involved for TFC to purchase those carts from County Waste,” VPPSA Executive Director Steve Geissler said. “County Waste doesn’t have to get the carts, TFC doesn’t have to deliver carts and I don’t have to worry about the cart I put out every Thursday morning disappearing and waiting for a new one to show up.”
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_