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It sure is nice to budget when you have money

Mayor Parker has released her FY2014 budget, and it’s great news for those of you that have been waiting for their single-stream recycling bin.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

More than 100,000 Houston homes will be added to the city’s single-stream recycling program by this fall, doubling the number of households receiving the 96-gallon green bins.

About 35,000 homes will receive single-stream service via the wheeled containers in July, allowing curbside recycling of glass, newspapers, magazines, cans, cardboard and plastic. Another 70,000 homes will be added in October.

Today, 28 percent of Houston homes have single-stream, and 26 percent use 18-gallon tubs, in which glass is not allowed. Another 46 percent do not have curbside recycling. The $7.8 million plan would expand single-stream service to about 55 percent of the city’s households, Mayor Annise Parker said. Of the initial 35,000 homes, a Solid Waste Department spokeswoman said, 15,000 will be first-time recyclers and 20,000 will upgrade from the 18-gallon tubs.

“To be a little more than halfway there is a great milestone,” Solid Waste Management Director Harry Hayes said, adding he anticipates a $500,000 savings in waste diverted from landfills.

The announcement came as Mayor Annise Parker rolled out her budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The proposed budget, which must be approved by City Council, is $4.5 billion, including enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and represents a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

Most of the spending increases – 51 percent – are driven by contracts with the city municipal, police and fire unions and each group’s pension board. Another 8.4 percent will go to rising health care costs.

The Mayor’s press release on the budget is here. Expanded recycling is the big deal, but there are a lot of other goodies in there as well. Some highlights include the completion of the rape kit backlog; $2.2 million to fund operations of the city’s new public safety radio project, which is about harmonizing communications with Harris County and other entities; the creation of the Forensic Transition Special Fund to keep separate and account for costs related to the Houston Forensic Science LGC; an extra $693K for BARC; and for the first time ever, a line item for infrastructure maintenance, renewal and replacement. The release also notes that all services that were cut two years ago will be restored if they have not already been. Like I said, ain’t it great to have the money for the things you need?

UPDATE: From the Texas Campaign for the Environment and my inbox:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 15, 2013

Contact: Tyson Sowell (713) 337-4192 (office) or (217) 418-9415 (cell)

Environmentalists Applaud Recycling Expansion But Opposed to City’s “Recycling Scheme”

HOUSTON–Environmentalists applaud Mayor Parker’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal that would expand curbside recycling to 100,000 households, while also urging her office to let curbside recycling work before adopting unproven waste schemes. The proposed expansion of single-stream recycling, separation of recyclables in one cart and garbage in another cart, is the single largest expansion of curbside recycling in the City of Houston’s history.

“We are very happy to hear a renewed commitment to the expansion of single-stream recycling,” Tyson Sowell, Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “Over the previous years, the city has said that they cannot expand curbside recycling due to budget constraints. We’re glad to see that they have decided to make recycling a priority.”

The proposed curbside expansion comes on the heels of recent negative public reaction towards the Mayor’s proposal to build a “dirty MRF (materials recovery facility)”.

The “dirty MRF” would cost an estimated $100 million, and would sort recyclables and garbage that have been combined or sorted by residents and collected in one truck. Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) says that similar facilities in other communities and have failed to achieve high recycling rates.

“Houstonians want to recycle and we want real recycling. The announced expansion is a direct result of thousands of letters written by Houstonians to the mayor and city council members asking for real recycling, not some magic system that will not work,” Mr. Sowell said. “Houstonians get it. They understand that dirty MRFs do not work because of contamination issues. They understand that paper is ruined when you place your coffee grounds on top of it. Hopefully this is a sign that the City of Houston understands this now, as well, and will allow real recycling to work.”

Currently, the city services 375,000 households with garbage collection services. Of those 375,000 households, 170,000 households do not have curbside recycling available to them. The proposed expansion would cut the number to those without curbside recycling to 135,000 households at the start of fiscal year 2014 and cut it again to 70,000 by the end of fiscal year 2014.

Mr. Sowell says that the next step is for the city to commit to similar expansions of recycling for the next two fiscal years so that everyone will have single-stream curbside recycling by 2016 and for the city to abandon the “dirty MRF” idea.

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