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Prince Edward supervisors agree to recycle with STEPS

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, July 14, to return the county’s recycling to STEPS Inc. after handing it to a private vendor this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic forced STEPS, a not-for-profit organization, to shut down its recycling operation.

Jerry R. Townsend

The emergency agreement with ELITE Recycling, a private vendor based in Brookneal, gave the county a preview of another option it could pursue in the long term for its recycling that might represent better service for its citizens in some ways.

The board faced the decision of choosing between a private vendor and STEPS at its June 9 meeting but opted to table the decision until it could gain a clearer understanding of the difference in cost each option presented to the county.

Other key considerations the board had to take into account were the facts that STEPS is a local company, and its recycling program not only pumps almost $141,000 into the local economy, it also provides jobs for six people with disabilities.

County Administrator Wade Bartlett made a presentation comparing the costs and benefits of each option during the July 14 meeting. After STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup answered some questions, Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride made a motion to return the county’s recycling to STEPS.

Leigh District Supervisor and Board Chairman Jerry R. Townsend seconded the motion.

“I know we’re here, we’ve got to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, but everything is not always a profit,” he said. “And with the six employees with disabilities, I’m telling you, if it was $50,000 (more), I wouldn’t vote against it, taking anyone’s jobs. Bottom line — there’s some things (where) it’s not about the dollar. It’s about helping people improve their quality of life.”

During his presentation, Bartlett reviewed the details of his memo to the board that was in the meeting packet. He noted that with ELITE costing the county $2,100 for the last three months, he would estimate the cost per year for ELITE to provide recyclable services would be $8,400, which he stated is very competitive with the cost charged by STEPS.

He then highlighted a chart displaying the number of trips county employees made January-June, both in total and to STEPS/J & J Recycling.

What the chart showed, Bartlett stated, is that with ELITE providing recycling services, the number of total trips driven by county employees did not decrease and in fact went up slightly. What also could be seen is that ELITE was averaging 32 trips each month while the county was averaging 18 from January-March for recycling.

Wade Bartlett

Thus, using ELITE did not save any money by reducing the number of trips, Bartlett continued, but it did allow the county to make more trips to and from the dump sites, and ELITE emptied the recyclable containers more often.

“This meant there were fewer times the dumpsters were full and citizens were not able to unload or had to go to another site,” Bartlett wrote in the memo. “Since the pandemic, the county’s volume has increased. We believe this is because people were at home generating more trash than normal.”

Bartlett recalled his point in the memo about sites being full when he presented the question to the board of whether or not it wanted to continue using STEPS.

“If you do, we will go back to how we were before where there may be times when some of our boxes at our sites are full and people can’t dump, or they’ll have to go somewhere else,” he said. “I’m not saying that didn’t happen during COVID, but it probably happened less.”

Shortly before the vote, Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck asked what the annual cost to the county was in terms of hauling.

“There is a cost to it, but what I’ve shown here is, we pay that cost anyway,” Bartlett said. “It just allows better service to our citizens. You’re not going to save. If you really want to save, then what you would do is you would back off the number of trips, and because ELITE would be providing more of the trips, then the biggest cost savings would be you would eliminate your full-time position, your driver position, and hire one or two part-timers. That would be one of your single largest savings. Whether you want to do that or not…”

Wilck interjected then, asking what the county presently donates to STEPS.

Bartlett and Townsend estimated it was around $40,000.

After Bartlett’s initial presentation, Harrup briefly addressed the board at the invitation of Townsend.

Sharon Harrup

“The only point that I will make is what value do you and the Board of Supervisors place on jobs for people with disabilities?” she said. “Because that’s an intangible. You cannot quantify what employing people with disabilities means not only to your community, to your workforce that’s holding the product out there to us, and to the citizens in the community that instead of bringing stuff to your site, they will bring it to our site so that our young men with disabilities help them unload their cars.

“I have always known that you guys have been great supporters of ours, and for that we are eternally grateful,” she added. “We just implore you tonight to remember that there are six young men with disabilities that are depending on the volume of Prince Edward County to come back to secure their jobs.”

Prospect District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman J. David Emert posed a few questions to Harrup after she spoke. He said he received letters from people employed at Longwood University, and he asked her why Longwood does not use STEPS for recycling.

“At this point, I honestly cannot answer that question,” Harrup said. “I will tell you that I know that they run their own cardboard recycling program, but how they process aluminum and plastic, we’re still really investigating that.

“We do have a board member, Dr. Sara Miller, who is taking the lead on getting us in the door to negotiate with Longwood about working with them, not only because we think it’s the right thing for Longwood to do, but also because Longwood has a program that provides college opportunities to individuals with disabilities. And some of those individuals would make great employees for our site too,” she added. “So I honestly cannot answer tonight, but I tell you we are working on it feverishly.”