Board tables STEPS decision
The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, June 9, to table the decision of whether or not to return the county’s recycling operations to STEPS Inc.
As noted in a memo from County Administrator Wade Bartlett to the board, one of the unfortunate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was that STEPS had to close its recycling program to protect its workers, six of whom are people with disabilities.
The board then authorized the county to contact a private recycler to continue the county’s recycling program, Bartlett continued. The county was recently informed STEPS is reopening its recycling program.
He stated that while Prince Edward has used STEPS for more than 20 years to provide recycling services and one might think the county would automatically move its program back to STEPS, he thought he had to share with the board what county staff had learned over the last two months.
Bartlett presented financial data during the Tuesday meeting that helped illustrate why a private recycler could be a good long-term option financially, but some supervisors found the data and its presentation confusing.
Ultimately, Leigh District Supervisor and Board Chairman Jerry R. Townsend advocated for tabling the issue until the board could get more data.
“It’s simple, to me. I just want to know how much money are we losing each month (if) we stay with STEPS versus we go to a private vendor,” he said. “Is it worth six individuals losing their jobs?”
Prospect District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman J. David Emert made the motion to table the issue. Before seconding the motion, Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride said presentation is everything and asked if Bartlett could present the existing data in a manner that made the issue clearer.
Bartlett said he thought it would need to be presented in a spreadsheet form.
The STEPS discussion came around 11 p.m. Tuesday near the end of a more than four-hour board meeting that had featured eight public hearings. In-person access to the meeting was not possible due to the pandemic, but the public could listen and participate over the phone.
STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup was among those who both participated in the public comments period near the meeting’s start and spoke in favor of the county reuniting its recycling operations with STEPS.
In a Wednesday morning, June 10, interview, she said she remained on the meeting line to hear the discussion, and shared her reaction to the board’s decision to table the matter for now.
“It was disheartening, and we’re going to continue to advocate for our employees with disabilities and for the recycling center,” she said. “I was hoping that the board itself would have seen the value of jobs for people with disabilities in addition to the community outpouring of support both in letters and phone calls and reaching out to boards of supervisor members, because in my opinion it’s not just a decision that can be made on the financial bottom line.
“You’re talking about people’s lives with jobs,” she continued. “You’re talking about the economic impact that having that recycling center at STEPS in Farmville brings to the community, so it was disheartening.”
In Bartlett’s memo, he stated the positives STEPS brings. He noted it is a local company and the recycling program provides jobs to six people with disabilities. The program pumps almost $141,000 into the local economy.
Harrup said it is very difficult to predict where the board is at on the issue.
“I think it was very evident last night that Mr. Emert is definitely a proponent of taking (the recycling program) away from STEPS and giving it to the for-profit business in Campbell County, just by virtue of some of the comments he made,” she said.
Emert summed up his position in a Wednesday interview.
“I think that economically we should pursue another option,” he said. “If we want to do this emotionally, I think people are going to stay with STEPS.”
Harrup said had the motion been placed on the floor that would have called the matter to a vote, she would like to think there were enough supporters of STEPS and people with disabilities on the board that STEPS would have won.
“But I also believe that if we cannot reach consensus on the board, this issue is going to continually come up,” she said. “I think that the sentiments on the board are very positive toward our organization. We’ve always had great support from the board. I just think this issue of recycling and Mr. Emert is coming from a different position, and that’s not something that we’ve really had to grapple with from that board in the past.”
Emert said he owned and operated a recycling business for 15 years and worked with another one for another eight to 10 years.
“So therefore I know all the ins and outs about recycling,” he said. “That’s the reason why the board uses me as an authority, so to speak, on the recycling end of it, because I’ve been in that line of work.”
He said the numbers the board needs to know were provided by Bartlett.
“In order for everybody to understand it, it may need to be a spreadsheet or something like that, but the numbers are there,” he said.
Harrup expressed the hope that a clearer presentation will lead the board to send the county’s recycling back to STEPS.
“I’m very much hoping that then it would be extremely evident to all the members on the board, and they would be able to see their way clear to vote for us,” she said.