Environmental Commission reports new Solid Waste Plan at City Council

Monday, March 5, 2018 - 9:24pm

Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, discusses new ordinances during a meeting at City Hall Monday.

Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, discusses new ordinances during a meeting at City Hall Monday. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

The Ann Arbor City Council convened Monday evening to provide an update on the status of the City of Ann Arbor’s Solid Waste Fund, which is currently at a sufficient balance. The Environmental Commission aims to hire an outside consultant to draft the Solid Waste Fund’s five-year plan this April. In a special session, the council also increased City Attorney Stephen Postema’s pay by 2.5 percent to $184,500.

The Solid Waste Plan manages a system for recycling collection financed by the Solid Waste Fund, an enterprise fund operating as a bsusiness. According to Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, at a working session on Feb. 22, the council’s Environmental Commission provided an update of the fund to a healthy status, which contrasted the original concerning numbers.

“The Solid Waste Fund balance had been given many projections showing very dire circumstances, but going back through the audit, we have been given a revised figure that that fund is currently stable,” Smith said.

With higher recycling costs resulting from the shutdown of the Materials Recovery Facility, some voiced concerns about longterm stability. However, according to a January report by Craig Hupy, public service area administrator, average annual revenue from the Solid Waste Fund measures approximately $14 million, and barring an emergency, will not drop significantly. In January, City Administrator Howard Lazarus projected higher revenues numbers for the end of the fiscal year than Hupy.

“The end of year balance for the Solid Waste Fund is forecasted for the end of the fiscal year to be $22 million,” Lazarus said. “There’s a drop in what’s called the unrestricted fund balance, this is at $8.5 million, but that’s forecasted to rebound in the fiscal year of 2019 to go up to $10 million.”

Smith emphasized the Environmental Commission’s main focus in the coming months is to update the 2013-2017 Solid Waste Plan and draft a new five-year plan, which would aim to establish a zero-waste system for the city.

“But more importantly, we spent a lot of time at that work session talking about the upcoming five-year Solid Waste Plan and since we’ve all been very involved in the recycling situation particularly with the condition of the MRF, this is all going to be examined in pretty great detail in the five-year Solid Waste Plan update,” he said. 

The Environmental Commission will hire an outside consultant to evaluate the plan’s current condition and ultimately draft a new, improved five-year proposal aiming for a zero-waste plan. 

“The selected consultant will prepare financial models about the best ways to pay for these things, give us guidance on how to move forward with the MRF with or without regional partners and give us real direction on how to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves which is becoming more on a path towards zero waste in a financially responsible manner,” Smith said.

Smith also highlighted the community’s concerns surrounding the revitalization of the MRF for future use under the five-year plan.  

“The update from staff included information that we have yet another group that will give us an opinion on the condition of the MRF and what it will take to make it operational again,” Smith said. “We expect that by early April we were told.”

With the guidance of the outside consultant and involvement of the Ann Arbor community, the drafting will begin in April.

“We expect to have a consultant on board to start the five-year Solid Waste Plan by mid-April and that will go on over the course of the summer and naturally there will be a lot of public meetings that we will be asking a great deal of input from our community on this plan,” Smith said.

Hupy emphasized prioritizing different aspects of the plan based on the council’s goal of zero waste.

“Part of the planning effort will have to be prioritization of what items get done first and with what resources,” Hupy said. “This isn’t an unlimited amount of money so you have to decide what gets done first so that’s why the Solid Waste Plan goes back through council so they can mold it to make sure it reflects their values.”

Smith emphasized the need for public input in order to attain sustainable zero waste as a community, since the results will have a significant effect on every resident in Ann Arbor.

“I think it’s easy to think that this isn’t a glamorous plan to work on just because it’s called Solid Waste Plan but I think it impacts every single person in the city, and I think there are a lot of issues we need to tackle on this plan so it's going to be of critical importance to have good public engagement on this project,” Smith said.

Furthermore, during a special session Monday evening, the council also voted to increase City Attorney Stephen Postema’s pay by 2.5 percent — from $180,000 to $184,500. In addition to this salary increase, Postema will also receive a lump-sum bonus of $4,151.25.

“The City Council believes providing equitable and sustainable compensation is critical to retaining employees that are essential to the city's ability to perform at levels expected by residents and taxpayers,” the council resolution read.

The resolution, including the city attorney’s increased salary and one-time bonus payment, was retroactively effective Jan. 1.