While the gates of Polk County’s recycling center will remain closed for the time being, county officials say a temporary solution of sorts has been found for the next two months.
Following an agreement Friday between county commissioners and the center’s current manager, Robert Meredith, county residents will be able to drop off their recyclables starting Wednesday, Jan. 2, at a site in Halfway.
Meredith, who owns and operates Big Dog Recycling, 2074 Hwy. 32 in Halfway, told the BH-FP on Friday afternoon he had agreed to accept dropped-off recyclables at his business for the next 60 days.
All the same items previously collected at the county recycling center will be accepted, Meredith added.
“It will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Meredith said. “And on Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m.”
Meredith said the new arrangement will be “100-percent self-service.” Area residents who are dropping off items will not have anyone there to help them unload, sort or deposit recyclables in the proper bins.
“We can’t afford to pay someone to babysit,” he said, adding that individuals are still expected to sort and deposit responsibly and correctly.
He said cameras will monitor those dropping off items, and anyone who violates the sorting requirements may be asked to not return.
On Friday afternoon, Polk County Presiding Commissioner Shannon Hancock said Meredith will remain on the county’s payroll “at the same rate” until the end of February.
Both Meredith and Hancock say they hope the temporary arrangement will “buy time,” allowing the county a chance to find a more permanent solution.
Background of center’s closure
The county’s recycling center, just east of Mo. 32 and Rt. D, closed this week.
Unanswered questions over its future funding and management are at the core of the closure, according to Meredith and Hancock.
Meredith, who has been on the county’s payroll and at the center’s helm since 2013, told the BH-FP Wednesday he closed the facility this week in order to wrap up before leaving the post at the year’s end — that is, unless the county increases funding for the facility.
Meredith is asking the county to provide him an additional $31,291 to run the center, both he and Hancock said.
Meredith said he provided the county written notice in mid-August of his plans to vacate the post by Jan. 1 if that funding was not made available.
Hancock said the county — with the location and utilities, as well as $10,000 annually since 2016, provided by the City of Bolivar — currently pays Meredith $22,382 to operate the center, in addition to providing some equipment and some fuel.
Meredith wants that amount increased to $53,673, a figure he says would cover his expenses and allow him to make something of a profit.
Under the current arrangement, Meredith said he provides staffing for the center and collects, stores, processes and then hauls recyclables — mostly with his own equipment.
While he receives money for the sale of the recyclables, he said it’s not enough to break even. Instead, he said he is “easily” losing around $15,000 a year.
He said the changing nature of the recycling industry, which has seen the value of recyclables plummet over the past few years, is to blame.
And it’s not just a Polk County problem — the effect is being felt by recycling centers everywhere, he said.
As far as Meredith’s financial request is concerned, Hancock told the BH-FP Wednesday the county “just doesn’t have that extra money.”
While the facility will remain closed for the time being, Hancock said the county is “working to reopen” it.
“We want to see it back open,” he said.
To that end, Hancock said the county may consider alternative arrangements, including taking the center over fully or contracting it out totally.
On Friday, Hancock said potentially charging drop-off fees is also on the table.
In any case, potential grant money could be available, as well, in future years to help defray the center’s costs, he added.
Describing the current arrangement on Wednesday as “complicated,” Hancock added “it would be a lot better if” the county “either contracted it and completely separated ourselves from it, or we just take it over as a county, hire someone full-time, put them on it and that’s what they do.”
The former option, Hancock said, would of course involve the county putting the facility out to public bid.
In the meantime, Hancock said he continues to welcome other suggestions, too, from the public.
As of Friday afternoon, courthouse officials say they have received around 30 phone calls from area residents concerned about the center’s future.
“We’re looking for options,” Hancock said Wednesday. “… If somebody has some ideas out there, I’d like to have them.”