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On the chopping block: State recycling funding

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget would eliminate the state's 20-year-old mandatory recycling law and funding for local recycling grant programs.

For St. Croix County, the state recycling funding loss would be $275,122. For Pierce County, funding loss would total $294,193.

The Pierce County Board has already passed a resolution opposing the proposed legislation.

The resolution highlights many issues, including:

• A 2006 DNR survey showing 93 percent of Wisconsin residents favor or strongly favor the current recycling law and that 96 percent of households are "committed" to recycling.

• Wisconsin has used money raised to support municipal recycling programs as "part of a failed attempt to balance the state's budget and proposes to do so again, while becoming the first state in the nation to repeal a mandatory recycling program."

• Wisconsin's recycling program succeeds because of its mandate, ensuring sufficient "economic recycling collection, processing and manufacturing by both public and private sector entities, and to eliminate this mandate and accompanying financial assistance in such a dramatic way (July 1) would devastate Wisconsin's recycling program."

"This would just slam the door," said St. Croix Planning and Zoning Director David Fodroczi about the recycling cutoff. "There would be nothing provided in the transition. It's like pulling the plug."

St. Croix County shares the state recycling grant money with 26 other municipalities, including Kinnickinnic and Troy. Nine other county municipalities operate and spend the grant money on their own.

Fodroczi said a summit meeting this week at the county's government center will look at how the local governing units will be affected by state funding cutoff.

St. Croix County uses more than $100,000 in state funds to have a recycling specialist, Jennifer Havens, and to operate a Clean Sweep Hazardous Waste Collection program so residents can properly get rid of unwanted waste chemicals like pesticides, acids, flammable chemical, mercury, lead paint and solvents; recycling programs for apartments and multi-family buildings, schools and stores; publicizing an updated recycling and disposal guide; and publishing a recycling newsletter.

"With the cutoff, the county components of recycling would be gone," Fodroczi said.

The rest of the funds are distributed to the county's other governing units to operate their recycling programs.

"It's a pretty significant withdrawal of resources," Fodroczi said. "The impact will vary from municipality to municipality."

In Kinnickinnic, Town Clerk Lola Higgins says the town got $1,750 in recycling grant money last year to operate its recycling dropoff center on Highway 65 and Town Hall Road.

Higgins said the grant money doesn't quite cover all costs. Veolia, a private waste hauler, is paid $2,100 a year to take away the recyclables.

Also, some people occasionally dump their garbage at the recycling center. The town foots the bill to dispose of the illegally dropped off garbage.

Even with the state funding cutoff, Fodroczi said recycling probably wouldn't come to a standstill.

"Private waste haulers have already made sizable investments in their facilities and equipment to collect and process recyclables," he said. "They even rely on a certain stream of recyclables coming in.

"The current structure with recycling is pretty institutionalized. It's not a new thing, there is no need to retool or to gear up. That's all been done years ago when recycling was new. The system to handle it is already in place."

Pierce County Board Supervisor Paul Barkla was appalled when he first heard about the governor's proposal to ax recycling.

"It's ridiculous when you consider the tradition and benefits that recycling has brought," Barkla said. "We make some money in Pierce by selling recyclables, and our landscape and environment is better off because we've eliminated the need for garbage dumps that leak pollutants into the groundwater."

Barkla pointed to the success of Pierce County's Recycling Center and its 11 employees.

Pierce Solid Waste Administrator Steve Melstrom said the Recycling Center has gross revenues from recyclable sales averaging about $400,000 annually.

Pierce County property taxpayers also pay an annual $25 fee to support these recycling efforts.

But Barkla said without the state grant, Pierce's recycling program wouldn't last in its current form for more than two or three years.

"That state grant is very important," Barkla said. "Without it, our program would be almost destroyed."

Barkla said as overall state funding for local government units tightens, all programs, including recycling, will be scrutinized to see which are essential and which can be afforded.

On the other hand, Barkla has heard that not all state lawmakers, including Republicans, agree with Walker's recycling mandate/grant cutoff.

"So, I'm not going to get too excited and overreact until I see how the final state budget shakes down," Barkla said.

One such Republican legislator with doubts about the recycling cutoff is state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls.

Harsdorf has supported state recycling laws. The one now being threatened was passed two decades ago during her first term in office.

"That program was worked well," Harsdorf said Friday.

Harsdorf, who sits on the Legislature's powerful joint finance committee, said feedback during the committee's four recent public hearings has been strongly in favor of saving the recycling mandate/grant.

"People came forward to speak of the importance of recycling," she said.

While there's much else to get done in the new budget, Harsdorf said that she too wants to maintain the state's recycling tradition.

"You travel to some other states that don't even have recycling laws, and that speaks well for what we have going in Wisconsin," Harsdorf said. "Our recycling minimizes the waste that goes into landfills and encourages the marketing of recyclable products."

Harsdorf anticipates a bipartisan effort will be strong enough to re-insert the recycling program in the final state budget signed by the governor.