NORTH TONAWANDA – The mayor’s proposed budget once again calls for no tax increase. But in doing so, he highlighted the expansion of a new revenue opportunity expected to contribute $25,000 to city coffers next year: recycling.
The wheeled, 35-gallon recycling tote has become so popular that there is a waiting list of 500 who want them and $25,000 in this new budget to buy 800 more.
“You don’t have to be an environmentalist. The more we recycle, the more we bring in,” said Mayor Robert Ortt, whose own tote often includes wine bottles, plastic containers, soup cans and cardboard cereal boxes. “There’s plenty of weeks I could skip garbage. I could almost never skip recycling.”
The new, profitable approach to recycling started this year after Public Works Superintendent Bradley Rowles distributed the 500 totes that he discovered had been languishing in a storage trailer for the last nine years.
They went out in a pilot program, helping some of the city’s 14,000 households to recycle more, increasing the city’s revenues and savings to about $12,000, according to Rowles. He came up with the figure by factoring in the money saved in $33.50-a-ton disposal fees and the $10-a-ton value of recyclables.
“The phone was ringing off the hook when we first started this,” Rowles said, calculating that if the city could get up to $50,000 in savings that would take care of 1 percent of his department’s $5 million budget. “Let’s start focusing on revenues to make budgets exciting instead of a negative.”
Ortt’s 2013 budget proposal, to be voted on next month, was presented to the Common Council last week. The proposal was his third as mayor. While his first included a tax increase, the last two have not. If the Council agrees, the tax rate will remain at $13.16 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The budget includes $825,000 in road and sidewalk repairs, helped by a $400,000 state grant.
On the revenue side, an extra $100,000 is expected to come from new sales tax revenues with projections from the new Walmart and Remington Tavern restaurant that opened in a new complex of lofts and businesses on Sweeney Street this year. They are estimated to rise from this year’s $7.57 million to $7.67 million next year.
Ortt tried to find ways to pare city department requests that would have added $5 million to his $35.35 million spending plan, including:
• $70,000 to hire two new firefighters six months apart – March and July – so full salaries, about $52,000, aren’t paid next year.
• Annual operating deficits of $500,000 at the Water and Sewer departments were cut off last year. Money was saved by hiring the Lockport superintendent to manage the departments, an arrangement that ended in June.
The job description has been redefined for next year with a salary and benefits offer for the new hire that is closer to $100,000 than the $140,000 of the past.
After incentives attracted 11 to retire this summer, only five of those positions are set to be rehired at Public Works next year.
Six not to be replaced came from the Water Departments, engineering, the golf course, building maintenance, Public Works Department and equal savings of about $300,000. In the last two years, 50 positions have been cutting adding up to $2.6 million in savings, said Ortt.
• Water rates went up last year by 30 cents per 1,000 gallons.
• New union contracts have employees contributing to prescription purchases and 10 percent to 25 percent of health insurance costs.
• The golf course manager, to be hired next year, will no longer be full-time, but a part-time worker with a seasonal schedule that matches when the course is open, usually April to November.