West U City Council Forum: Candidates Discuss Closing the Recycling Center

April 8, 2013

InstantNewsWestU.com is hosting an online candidate forum for the West U City Council candidates.

Questions and the candidates’ answers will be published throughout the weeks leading up to early voting.

There are five candidates vying for four city council seats. Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample, Councilman Dick Yehle, Councilwoman Joan Johnson and Councilman Ed Heathcott are all running for re-election. Friends of West U Parks Board Member Sonny Brandtner is running for a city council seat.

Readers who wish to submit questions for the candidates should e-mail them to sara@instantnewswestu.com.

Candidates’ answers are published as they are received, without any editing by InstantNewsWestU.com. The candidates responses were originally posted in ballot order and are rotated each week.

Question:

The City of West U has been losing money on its recycling center, RecyclExpress, for years. City staff has stated publically that they may be recommending that the city close the recycling center in 2013 for the 2014 city budget.

The recycling center is located on a two-acre piece of city owned property at 5004 Dincans, just south of Westpark near Kirby, and the property is valued between $4-5 million.

While the number of residents who use the facility is unknown, city staff says that a large percentage of people who use RecyclExpress are not West U residents.

In 2011, the city spent $250,000 to operate the recycling center and made $219,000 in revenue. Revenues and expenditures have yet to be determined for 2012.

In 2010, the city made $180,000 in revenue and in 2009 the city’s revenue was $132,000, while operating costs for the recycling center stayed about the same.

Based on these facts, should the city close the recycling center? If the city decides to sell the property, what do you propose to do with the money from the sale of the property?

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Ed Heathcott –

Yes, I would support the closing of West University’s Recycling Center, RecyclExpress.  This Center has served a useful purpose in past years but with the improvement of waste processing centers citizens have other options that are more convenient.  The citizens of West U have curbside recycling pickup available.  Data from recent years suggests the largest number of users of this center are non-West U residents and RecyclExpress is currently operating at a loss.  I am not in favor of immediately selling this property.  This property may be needed for vehicle storage or other operational needs and the West U city staff needs to think through long term issues.  At a later date, should the property be sold, I would be in favor of setting these funds aside for park land acquisition.

Sonny Brandtner –

West U is a “ Green” community that serves as a role model for the rest of our country. West U recycling efforts are among the highest in the nation.  I am proud of our commitment to making this world green. Yes, the recycling center is convenient for our residents and neighboring cities. However, most of our recycling success results from curbside pickup from our homes. Our waste personnel are outstanding in accommodating our recycling needs. We should all take time to thank them often.

Yes, the recycling center should be closed. The center is consistently operating at a loss. Approximately 85 percent of our residents use curbside recycling pickup. Increasing the volume of recycling per household is a goal of the City. I support closing the recycling center and increasing our curbside recycling service. The increase of curbside pickup cost will be offset by the recycling sales.

No, we should not sell the land; it will continue to increase in value. I believe we should not give up West U real estate unless we exchange for land closer to our residents. Remember, I passionately support parks and green space. While the land is vacant, perhaps we can lease to West U Little league or soccer for additional playing fields close to home. There will be many opinions on when the land should be sold and how we should use the proceeds. A community vote should decide.

Dick Yehle –

For many years West U has been a leader in recycling.  However, recycling has a budgeted cost just as there is one for other services like sweeping the streets and solid waste removal.  RecylcExpress has been an integral component of the recycling initiative that until recently has largely paid for itself.  I think it still provides a valuable service to West U residents and to the environment.  It should be kept open, provided that the out of pocket cost is reasonable.

There might be a time when the services of RecyclExpress become redundant due to the regional transition to “single-stream” recycling and new initiatives by the City of Houston that are changing the dynamics of recycling.  If that happens, the disposition of the site will become an issue.  While it may be seductive to capitalize on the multi-million dollar value of the property and divert the funds to some other capital project(s) such as buying parkland, drainage or resurfacing some streets, it is land very close to West U that is virtually irreplaceable.  Therefore I would retain the property until it is clear that there is no practical long term use of the property for city business, such as relocating Public Works Operations from its even more expensive location in the center of the City or creating a West U dog park at a location away from all houses.

Joan Johnson –

It is my understanding that RecyclExpress was founded in the late 1990’s as a service for our West University Place Residents and as the result of a grant from Houston-Galveston Area Council.  We did not have curbside recycling in WUP until 1999.

A resident survey was conducted in May, 2012, requesting information on the Recycling Center as well as Automated Residential Trash Collection.  The result of this survey shows that 91% of WUP residents are aware of the recycling center.  However approximately 83% of them seldom use the facility.  Based on the study, most of the people using the recycling center are outside the City of WUP.  Therefore, it is not a service our residents use and based on the fact that the recycling center has not broken even financially for several years, unless there are other factors of which I am not aware, I would be in favor of closing the facility.

Regarding the sale of the land on Dincans, I am not sure that I would support selling this site.  The value of land will only increase over the future years and we may have other alternatives, such as leasing the land.  If we decided the best decision would be to sell the land, we would have to research the best use of these monies at that time.  One of the possibilities would be to purchase appropriate parkland if available; another might be to pay down our long term debt, and I am sure there would be many other suggestions at the time.

Susan Sample –

Although profit/loss analyses aren’t used to justify eliminating other city services, an analysis of actual figures indicates RecycleExpress is profitable, with 2011 and 2012 revenues of $220,000/year and operating costs of only $205,000 and $217,000. WUP promotes itself as “a Neighborhood City, providing our residents with world-class city services and being responsive to citizens’ needs.” We provide many valuable “non-essential” city services. West U would not be West U without our Rec Center, Colonial Park Pool or Senior Services. None of these services individually is used by more than 50% of residents. Approximately 20% of residents are Recreation Center members, and 15% at Colonial. A user-fee/cost-comparison shows each of these services “lose money”, yet all add value to our community. The same holds true for RecycleExpress. A 2011 resident-survey found nearly 50% of residents use RecycleExpress. All considered, we shouldn’t close RecycleExpress.

WUP owns various properties outside the city limits that are used for city services or held for future city use: the Braeswood water-treatment plant, Bellaire Boulevard property, and the Westpark property. These properties are valuable to WUP, which is starved for space. WUP needs to be strategic about managing city assets.  It is short-sighted to sell such properties without some dire need, as both their monetary value and value to the city will only increase.  If WUP sells these properties now for a one-time cash infusion, it couldn’t obtain comparable space in the future without a high cost, likely a tax increase.  Therefore, I oppose selling this property.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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