All of Mahoning County's political subdivisions will vote on the updated plan.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jim Petuch made a promise to Mahoning County commissioners when they hired him to lead the county's reuse and recycling division: By 2010 the county would meet the state's goal of reducing residential and commercial waste by 25 percent.
Mahoning County's recycling rate was only about 9 1/2 percent when Petuch became director. A year later, Petuch believes his pledge will be fulfilled as early as 2009.
"My whole approach has been, do everything to get the numbers up," said Petuch, whose office is in the county's Southside Annex building at Market Street and Southern Boulevard.
Getting the numbers up has involved changing the way his office awards local grants; recruiting more businesses to recycle; obtaining reports from businesses that already recycle; and making residential recycling easier.
Those initiatives are within a solid-waste district plan update that officials of all of the county's political subdivisions will vote on later this year. Citizens also will be able to review the plan and make comments in hearings to be scheduled.
"I want people to call with their ideas," Petuch said.
The recycling division isn't supported by the county's general fund. It collects about $3 million per year in tipping fees on garbage that goes to local landfills. Rates are $1.50 per ton of locally generated trash, $3 per ton on trash that's generated elsewhere in Ohio but brought here, and $1.50 per ton on trash coming from other states to local facilities.
All fees are established by state law, and the rate on out-of-state garbage is the same as the local fee because of laws that protect interstate commerce, Petuch said.
Petuch has made many changes since he was hired by commissioners in March 2005.
The recycling division was running a deficit, which Petuch addressed by cutting personnel and replacing competitive funding grants with a new program. Under his predecessor, Tim Berlekamp, the district had awarded $764,000 in 2004 to communities that used recycled materials in paving programs and playground construction. Those were good projects but not priority expenditures as identified by the EPA, Petuch said.
This year, the recycling division awarded 48 grants of up to $5,000 each to individuals and groups whose projects include recycling initiatives, Petuch said.
Petuch credits county commissioners for supporting him in changing the grant program. It could have created political problems for them in communities that benefited from the old program, he said.
The recycling division has begun to receive monthly data from scrap metal processors, thanks to an amended Youngstown ordinance and new rules for businesses that seek licenses from the county auditor's office. Combined, those businesses processed 36,000 tons of previously unaccounted scrap metal in 2005, which Petuch now reports to the EPA.
The number of recycling drop-off sites has increased from 24 to 33, and 10 sites will be added in 2007, Petuch said. Newspapers, magazines and catalogs that residents used to take to drop-off sites are now part of curbside collections.
An office paper recovery program has added 160 businesses in the last year. The goal is to add 100 businesses by year's end, he added.
A cooperative agreement between the recycling division and Youngstown State University led to the ReCREATE project, for which a Web site is being built to advertise availability of recyclable goods. For example, someone may use a company's excess wood pallets to make mulch, Petuch said. A special section of the Web site will be for teachers who need art supplies.
Besides waste reduction plans, litter prevention and illegal dumping law enforcement programs are a priority with the EPA. The recycling division has been paying the salaries of two county deputies since last August, in conjunction with Youngstown Litter Control Division. The deputies address illegal dumping sites in Youngstown and the county.
Carol Rimedio-Righetti, Youngstown's 4th-Ward councilwoman, says the litter cops have been in her area religiously. She's pleased with the quick response she's received when she relays complaints about trash at curbs for extended periods of time, junk cars and related problems.
"It shows that the county and the city are working together," Righetti said. "We're really one unit when you look at it."
Asked what she may suggest when it's Youngstown's turn to review the updated solid-waste plan, Righetti said she would support an expansion of recycling staff. "I really feel they're doing an excellent job," she said.