After more than an hour of debate among council members and dozens of residents, Churchill council Tuesday night approved a contract with its waste hauler that will give residents the option to place recyclable items on the curb for pickup.
The room was essentially split between a group of Republicans who opposed the recycling plan and a group of Democrats in favor of it. The opponents said that while they approve of recycling generally, they are concerned about the overall cost of the program and said they are comfortable with the way they recycle now, by taking recyclables to drop-off locations such as Construction Junction in North Point Breeze.
"It's like the local version of Obamacare," said Jim DiPerna of Branning Road.
Councilman Lawrence Lepidi questioned whether it was legal for council to accept a contract that includes recycling without first amending the appropriate ordinances.
Borough solicitor Robert Goehring dismissed that complaint and said the borough ordinance contains an "empowerment clause" that allows council to advertise bids for collection, disposal and removal of garbage and "enter into a contract ... with the successful bidder ... under such terms and conditions as are deemed advantageous" to Churchill.
"It's my opinion that there's sufficient general power" to enact a non-mandatory recycling provision, Mr. Goehring said.
Mr. Lepidi also noted that if the borough opted to stick with the trash pickup plan it has now, the borough could save roughly $100,000 over the five-year life of the contract. Some residents and council members noted that's money that could be spent on necessities like police cars.
Borough Treasurer Dan Duerring also questioned the borough's fiscal stability, given property tax assessment appeals throughout the borough, including the large Westinghouse complex.
The five-year contract with Allied Republic will cost the borough roughly what it pays for trash pickup now -- $217,645 a year -- but will include bi-weekly recycling pickup. Residents will not have to sort recyclables -- paper, glass, plastic and cardboard can all be tossed into one 65- or 35-gallon bin beginning in April.
In the meantime, the borough plans to educate residents about the program and amend the borough ordinance to reflect the recycling plan.
State law requires curbside recycling in municipalities with more than 5,000 people. Because Churchill has fewer than 4,000 residents, it would take a local ordinance to make recycling mandatory, but council members in favor of the recycling plan emphasized that recycling still will be voluntary.
Councilman Ray Jurewicz, one of three council members who served on a committee to craft the recycling plan, said it will ultimately save the borough money because fees reflect how much trash is put in landfills. By making recycling easier and reducing the amount of trash that goes to landfills, the borough will be able to save on landfill fees in future waste removal contracts, he said.
Council narrowly approved the contract, 4-3, with Mr. Lepidi, Rick Kline and Cheryl McAbee dissenting.
Those in favor of recycling said it would be nothing but beneficial for an aging borough -- the third-oldest in Allegheny County -- trying to attract young families. Melanie Henninger of Churchill Road moved to the borough three years ago and was dismayed to discover Churchill lacked a curbside recycling program.
She said her 4-year-old daughter watches "Sesame Street" and that recycling is encouraged by Elmo.
"I can't justify not recycling to my children," she said. As it stands, she said, recycling is a burden that involves pulling two car seats out of their vehicle, piling the recyclables in the car and driving them to dropoff locations.
"My point is this: Our current system works for some people, but for a lot of people it doesn't work," she said.
Ms. Henninger also dismissed the argument that some would struggle to get the recycling containers, which are on wheels, to the curb.
"If you can get your trash out to the curb, you can probably get your recycling [to the curb]," she said.
Councilwoman Bonnie Pantlik said she, Councilman Jay Dworin and Mr. Jurewicz would be willing to help implement the recycling plan and pledged to answer residents' queries within 24 hours.
Mr. Dworin claimed he's not an environmentalist but said that adding the recycling plan will decrease landfill trash and prevent landfill tipping fees from increasing in future contracts.
"I know there are fears," he said. "I know there are doubts. I know there are concerns."
But, Mr. Dworin said, he listed curbside recycling as a priority when he ran for council and he believes the plan is what's best for Churchill.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.