Asheville City Council

Curbside recycling to include mixed paper

The city wants your unwanted paper. Accordingly, the biweekly curbside-recycling program may be expanded to include mixed-paper wastes, by July 1.

“On average, I get at least one call a day asking, ‘Where am I going to put my magazines?'” Waste Management Coordinator Karen Rankin, told Asheville City Council members at their Feb. 1 work session. Rankin went on to note that, when she informs the caller about the city’s drop-off center near the Wal-Mart on Tunnel Road (which does accept waste paper), “You can tell from the change in their tone of voice that they aren’t going to drive down there.”

Currently, residents can recycle only newspaper and corrugated cardboard at the curb. Most remaining paper waste — such as junk mail, magazines, wrapping paper and cereal boxes — falls in the category of “mixed paper”. The Tunnel Road drop-off center recovers an average of 20 tons of mixed paper per month, Rankin said “but the vast majority of mixed paper generated by city residents is assumed to be going in the trash.”

“We really need to [expand the curbside service],” observed Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger. “With all the mail I get in a week, I just feel so guilty about stuffing it in the trash.”

“Just think what [City Hall] alone produces,” echoed Mayor Leni Sitnick.

The North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance estimates that Asheville could recover an additional 60 tons of recyclable material per month — a 27 percent increase over current monthly averages –by adding mixed paper to its curbside program. Besides being more convenient for residents, noted Rankin, such a move would reduce the burden on the drop-off center and save money on landfill tipping fees.

“It would add up to about $25,000 a year in tip-fee savings for the city,” she reported. City Manager Jim Westbrook added, “plus the savings to the county for not filling up that landfill space.”

Of course, curbside recycling costs money, too. The current $1.54 monthly fee (scheduled to go up to $1.58 in the near future) is added to property owners’ water bills. Adding mixed paper to the service would require a 30-percent increase in the curbside fee to $2.06 per month) to pay for four additional trucks, labor costs, purchase and delivery of additional bins and paper-processing charges, said Rankin.

“When we first started the curbside recycling, with 75 cents put on the water bill, I really heard about it,” she remembered when asked how water customers would react to the latest increase. “But when we doubled it, I didn’t get a single call. I had been prepared to go on vacation for a while.”

Council member Brian Peterson asked Rankin to look into having the curbside-pickup crews do a better job of loading all the materials into their trucks. “I’ve heard a few complaints at neighborhood meetings,” he revealed. “There’s litter [left] on the streets; it’s not all getting in the trucks. [Residents] say that’s how they know it’s recycling day.”

Film board to don a bigger hat

Asheville should view film and television production as a major economic development issue, said Mayor Sitnick, instructing the Asheville Film Board to find “a film-friendly policy to recommend, and bring it to us.”

“Drew Carey has brought more attention to Cleveland than any chamber of commerce ever could,” she said, going on to cite the $80 million Sundance Film Festival that comes to Park City, Utah, every year. “We have the same potential here. We certainly have the same climate.”

Asheville Film Board Chair Pam Turner told council that being a board instead of a commission is part of what’s holding the group back. The AFB, she said, would like to market the city to the film industry via Web sites, brochures and resource books — as well as hiring a film commissioner who could work with professionals and film crews and perhaps attract a studio. But the board simply doesn’t have the budget to accomplish all that, Turner pointed out.

“What do we have to do to get them a budget?” asked Vice Mayor Cloninger. The answer, responded City Manager Westbrook, is to make the board a commission. But here’s the rub: The state must first officially accredit the Asheville Film Board, and the Department of Commerce has been reluctant to do that, because of the existing Western Carolina Film Commission. Turner noted that the WCFC — which represents 23 western counties — has recently had some staff cutbacks, making this a good time to lobby the state for commission status for the Asheville board.

“I think we should do anything we can to try and bring credibility to the board,” said Cloninger, adding, “We really want to aggressively recruit films and television shows, and we need to heighten our visibility.”

Council member Peterson added a touch of local flavor to the mayor’s statement about Drew Carey, observing, “The Last of the Mohicans did more for tourism in Flat Rock than the Chamber of Commerce ever could.”

Turner explained that the AFB has expanded its focus beyond simply acting as a liaison to film crews, to include educational and promotional efforts. Several educational workshops for casting extras and film-crew professionals — plumbers, electricians, make-up and hair artists, etc. — have been scheduled for March 28 and 30 at A-B Tech. “We really feel our mission is to go out and bring a new industry and jobs to Asheville,” said Turner. “[The film industry] is kind of a closed community, and if you don’t know someone, it can be difficult to get in the loop.”

Council member Barbara Field observed that not everyone in Asheville is thrilled about recruiting local film projects, saying she’s received many negative comments from folks who were frustrated by street closings during the filming of My Fellow Americans. “There needs to be a building of understanding in the community,” she said. “Not everyone finds it happy and wonderful to run into a film crew, on their way to the bank.”

Friends For Animals budget bites

The Asheville Police Department and Friends For Animals have been haggling since last May over a new contract for animal services, and the result is an unexpected request to Council for $34,000.

APD’s Support Services Manager Alan Hyder said the FFA had made a budgeting mistake — their $96,000 budget for the 1999/2000 fiscal year doesn’t take into account the cost of overhead and dispatching services — and the city’s 20-month-long contract with FFA had expired before the APD could ask for the additional money.

While negotiating the new contract, the city looked into taking over the animal-services program, but found the costs — $308,000 for the first year and $190,000 for subsequent years — too high in relation to the quality of care.

“That assumed we had the office space to run the operation — and it would have been very much a no-frills operation,” Hyder said. City Manager Westbrook added, “This is one of those things we can continue to re-evaluate every year.”

Vice Mayor Cloninger asked several questions about FFA’s accounting and Hyder reported that a recent audit by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners found the group’s finances to be in order.

Council member Field asked Hyder to compare FFA’s services — begun in October 1997 — to the APD’s former handling of animal-control problems. He replied that, before contracting with FFA, the city had officially had three dogcatcher positions, but only one of them was filled due to budget restraints. FFA offers 24-hour service, he said, and employs seven trained animal-control officers who handle everything from stray snakes to dog-bite investigations.

“[The police] offered a very limited service, and we measured that by the large number of complaints we received,” Hyder explained. “We are very much pleased with the service FFA has provided the city. Since they took it over, we’ve had a dramatic reduction in the number of complaints about the quality of animal-control care. [The police] are not professional animal controllers. We never have been — and, frankly, we don’t want to be.”

Council indicated it will cover the budget bungle. Mayor Sitnick — citing the recent bitter strife about Friends for Animals — wanted to open the budget amendment to public comment at the next formal meeting, but relented and pushed it to the consent agenda after receiving no support from fellow Council members.

The conversation eventually turned to the effectiveness of the city’s animal-cruelty ordinance. FFA Director Mark Paulhus told the mayor that the current penalties offer little deterrent, and Mayor Sitnick — who appeared to be very much in agreement with Paulhus — asked City Attorney Bob Oast to look into beefing up that ordinance.

Traffic calming picks up speed

With an eye toward eliminating road rage and other negative effects of motor-vehicle use, city engineers unveiled the city’s long-awaited Neighborhood Traffic Calming Policy.

Primarily the brainchild of Traffic Engineer Michael Moule, the policy is intended both to guide city staff and inform citizens about the process for implementing traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps, on residential streets.

Moule explained that the lengthy process — based on models from several other cities — requires substantial neighborhood participation in each step (such as holding public meetings and completing street surveys). It can take as long as six months before a final traffic-calming plan is approved — and then city staff will determine were the project fits on their priority list.

Step five of the plan requires that 50 percent of the surveyed households support a petition, in order to move on to the next step. Council member Peterson said he thought the number was too high, pointing to the poor turnout (20 percent) even for something as high-profile as city elections. “You can never find people at home, and even if they are in support of something, they often won’t sign anything,” he allowed.

“For the final petition, 70 percent is typically what other communities rely on,” Moule responded. “It’s really to make sure you don’t have to come back and tear out the [calming measures] later.”

“When you put traffic-calming measures on one street, it affects other streets,” said City Engineer Cathy Ball, adding, “We don’t want to move the problem from one street to another.”

Peterson also expressed concerns about the fairness of the policy. Poorer neighborhoods, he said, might not be able to generate enough community groundswell to make it through all the steps and could be at a disadvantage, compared to a wealthier neighborhood. But he got no support from fellow Council members on this one, and the mayor and vice mayor vocally disagreed with him.

Mayor Sitnick said she found Peterson’s comments “a little bit elitist, to think that because you’re lower on the income and education scale that you’re not going to be active in your neighborhood.”

“In my experience in four years on Council, I have not found that lower socioeconomic communities are unorganized,” Vice Mayor Cloninger reported, listing several economically disadvantaged communities he considers very active in civic affairs. “I don’t see anything in this proposal that would favor one neighborhood over another.”

Council member Field pointed out that the city had implemented traffic-calming policies before, and she wanted to know how the new one is different. “The biggest reason it’s different,” explained Ball, “is to make it user-friendly, so the resident could pick it up and say, ‘Oh, this is what I need to do next.'”

Council member Charles Worley applauded all the steps in the new policy, saying, “You’re being very careful, and you’ll end up with a final plan that is well-thought-out.” Worley then asked about the funding mechanisms for carrying out the policy. Moule explained that the city would be limited to a maximum of three or four projects per year, depending on the amount of calming measures needed. “We are trying to be reasonable,” he concluded.

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