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STEPS decision nears for Prince Edward County board

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors will once again face the decision of whether or not to return the county’s recycling operations to STEPS Inc. when the board meets Tuesday, July 14.

Sharon Harrup

Supervisors voted unanimously to table the decision June 9.

The jobs of six STEPS workers with disabilities hang in the balance amid financial concerns.

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. The board then authorized the county to contact a private recycler to continue the county’s recycling program. The county was recently informed STEPS is reopening its recycling program.

STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup presented a letter from herself to the board earlier this week along with letters from some of the workers who will be impacted by the board’s decision.

“I’m going into this meeting Tuesday night very optimistic that the board, as a whole, will definitely see the value of keeping local jobs in the community and particularly since they are jobs that are filled by people with disabilities,” she said.

She noted she has signed up to speak during the public participation portion of the meeting.

“Honestly, my comments then will be very brief,” she said. “It’ll be more of a plea and advocating on behalf of our employees with disabilities. I just feel the need to let them know that I am on the call.”

To listen to the meeting, set to start at 7 p.m., members of the public can dial 1 (425) 436-6394. When prompted for an access code, dial 867576#.

“I’m hoping that when it does come up for a vote that I will be asked any questions that board members still have in their minds, but if not, I will be listening to hopefully every word that’s spoken,” Harrup said.

Two members of the Board of Supervisors sit on the STEPS Board of Directors — Townsend and Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride.

Jerry R. Townsend

“Like I stated before in last month’s meeting, I needed more data on the numbers, the expenditures, how much would it cost to privatize that versus how much is it costing the county at the present time if we stay with STEPS,” Townsend said. “There was a big difference in the numbers, so we needed to get more accurate data. And depending on that, that way I’ll be able to make a more informed decision.”

However, he gave further insight into his thinking once he has an answer on the money.

“I’ll just be up front — if it’s not a tremendous difference in the money, then me personally, I’m not going to be an advocate for not utilizing STEPS, because I think the impact of those individuals with disabilities, I think we need to be thinking about how we can help people be better, and I think that’s a way we can help those individuals with disabilities be better,” he said. “And STEPS also provides transportation for those individuals also, so unless it’s a tremendous difference in the money, I’m personally not going to be an advocate for not utilizing STEPS.”

He said if staying with STEPS involves the county paying $20,000 to $25,000 extra annually, that is not going to sway his vote away from returning to STEPS.

Jim Wilck

Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck said he has been listening to Prospect District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman J. David Emert, who has extensive experience running a recycling business.

Emert has previously summed up the decision as involving either economics or emotions.

Wilck is looking forward to learning more about the financial comparison in the July 14 meeting.

“My situation is I really feel like at this point I don’t have the full picture, but I’m in favor of STEPS for one reason, but I’m not willing to pay an extra $25,000 or $30,000 a year to STEPS,” he said. “We already give STEPS a pretty good hunk of change. If they can do it for close to the same money, I’d be delighted for STEPS to do it, but as I said, I don’t want to be out of a lot of additional money.”

Robert M. “Bobby” Jones

Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones said he supports going back and doing business with STEPS.

“I think they provide a service for our community that is needed, and they’ve done a good job in the past,” he said. “It does possibly cost us a little bit more, possibly. It depends on how you go about figuring the expense of each different avenue of doing it.”

Among the STEPS workers who wrote letters to the Board of Supervisors was David Buchanan.

“I value my job, and to have it taken away due to circumstances beyond my control would greatly affect me,” he wrote. “I have worked at STEPS off and on for nearly 20 years. During that time, I have been given the opportunity to be employed at a job that provides job training and to have a sense of accomplishment. This job provides a service to the community.”