Kenner recycling threatened by budget crunch

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Kenner’s reycling drop-off spots, such as this one at Kenner City Park, are overflowing, but budget problems are making it tough to add more locations and could threaten the program.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Kenner’s reycling drop-off spots, such as this one at Kenner City Park, are overflowing, but budget problems are making it tough to add more locations and could threaten the program.

A new recycling program in Kenner continues to outstrip expectations, but its success has created several headaches, which are unlikely to get better now that the program faces possible elimination because of budget constraints.

Last week, Kenner City Councilwoman Michele Branigan complained that a recycling drop-off location on Vintage Drive has become an eyesore because of the recyclable materials left strewn around by residents. Branigan said she’s received complaints, and her own opinion is that the site is a little nasty.

“It’s a problem,” Branigan said. “It’s disgusting over there.”

In January, several council members asked Mayor Michael Yenni to consider expanding the city’s recycling program because the initial response from residents was so overwhelming.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Kenner did curbside recycling. But when Yenni restarted the service in December, he decided to go with two drop-off locations to save money and gauge interest.

Yenni initially said the city would consider more options, such as expanding to new locations, but now that appears to be on hold because of the city’s financial situation.

Yenni told the council that preliminary budget figures forecast that Kenner needs to plug a $1.5 million to $2 million hole in its budget. Yenni will make an official budget presentation to the council in a few months.

That projected deficit is a problem for the recycling program, because its costs have far outstripped what city officials initially projected.

When the city began the recycling program, it expected the effort might cost $10,000, Yenni said. But due to residents’ usage, the program could wind up costing three times that amount, and the city needs to be certain that’s a good use of its resources moving forward, he said.

“It’s a popular program, but it’s a costly program,” Yenni said. “It’s something we’re looking at as we’re trying to plug that hole in the budget.”

Kenner pays Ramelli Waste $150 every time the company empties the recycling bins. Initially, city officials thought they might have one or two collections per month, but there have been times when they’ve had three collections in one day, Yenni noted.

Prior to Katrina, Kenner paid for its recycling program through a surcharge added to residents’ garbage bills, Finance Director Duke McConnell said. However, after the storm, the city decided to eliminate that fee because of questions about the level of participation. Yenni has said that only 20 percent of the city’s residents recycled when the service was curbside.

He noted that the city has thought about increasing the size of its recycling bins to reduce the number of times they must be emptied, but that comes with an additional cost. Councilman Keith Reynaud floated the idea that with more bins there would also be fewer pulls. He noted that Ramelli doesn’t charge the city for the bins, just for emptying them.

Branigan and Councilwoman Jeannie Black said that if the city’s budget is tight, it makes sense that recycling would be in danger because the city doesn’t have a dedicated funding source for it. If residents really want to keep recycling, they will have to look at paying for it, they said.

“A lot of people are surprised to hear that it costs money to recycle,” Branigan noted.

Black said there are no free lunches and wondered aloud if residents are truly committed to a green lifestyle.

“The same people who are recycling are using disposable diapers,” Black said.