The cost of subsidizing the Ashland Recycling Center will be apparent on garbage bills starting Jan. 1.
The Ashland City Council on Tuesday approved adding a $1.60 monthly fee for all Recology Ashland Sanitary Service customers to fund the recycling center while reducing their overall bill by the same amount.
Garbage bills will go up starting Jan. 1, however. The council also approved a 3 percent increase to help Recology buy standardized garbage carts that the company will provide to Ashland customers. The carts can be picked up by automated garbage trucks. Customers will no longer use their own garbage cans.
A 2012 study of garbage company practices found an inefficient mix of manual and mechanical pickup of garbage and recycling.
The study recommended that Recology further automate its system and consider closing the Recycling Center, which collects a fraction of recyclables in town.
City Administrator Dave Kanner said there is a pervasive myth that Recology makes a lot of money selling recyclables collected at the center, but that isn't the case. The center costs about $155,000 to run but generates only about $20,000 in revenue.
"We're spending a lot of money to collect a low volume of material — much of which does not come from Ashland or Recology Ashland Sanitary Service customers," he said.
Kanner said the center, which was created in the late 1990s, may be obsolete in an era of curbside recycling, which started in Ashland in 2007.
Though Ashland garbage customers pay for its operation, the Recycling Center is widely used by residents from throughout the Rogue Valley and Northern California. Councilors decided to set up a committee that will research the Recycling Center issue and make a recommendation for the center's future by June 1, 2014.
The Recycling Center is a social hub for many people who drop off recyclables, exchange bubble wrap, pick up free clothing, view compost demonstrations and adopt pets that are in need of homes.
Councilor Pam Marsh said the Recycling Center is a beloved institution in Ashland.
When people see the separate Recycling Center fee on their garbage bills, they may provide input to councilors about whether they want the center to continue operating, Marsh said.
Charging people to use the Recycling Center when they drop off materials would likely require more staffing there, increasing costs, according to Recology.
Former Mayor Cathy Shaw, who was in office when the Recycling Center was launched, said the center has a long history of making people more aware of the waste stream.
She said residents subsidize many important services, whether they use them or not.
But local innkeeper Abi Maghamfar questioned why residents and businesses should subsidize the Recycling Center when most don't use it.
"I don't see the fairness in this at all," he said. "Why should I pay for a service I'm not using?"
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.