Athens plans to keep Rumpke contract, complicating efforts to save recycling facility

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens plans to keep its garbage contract with Rumpke, complicating efforts to save the local recycling and composting facility.

The facility’s future was threatened last year when the city decided to contract with Rumpke for garbage service instead of Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers.

AHRC, which owns and operates the facility, had provided garbage service to the city for decades. But the city opted to go with Rumpke because its bid was significantly lower.

Athens Service-Safety Director Andy Stone said the contract with Rumpke is working out well for the city and he has no intentions of changing providers.

A blue AHRC recycling container sitting on a curb.
AHRC served Athens for 40 years before losing the contract to Rumpke. According to the organization’s website, it was the first curbside recycling program in Ohio. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
“It’s not Athens’ job to save AHRC,” Stone said. “However, Athens wants to be part of the solution to allow the COG to exist and to continue to function. And if we can be part of the solution, we will be part of the solution as long as it’s in the best interest of the ratepayers in the city of Athens.”

The COG Stone is referring to is a council of governments. Efforts to save the recycling and composting facility have centered around making garbage collection a government service.

The hope is that Athens would join this COG, break its contract with Rumpke and instead use the COG for garbage service.

Under state law, contracting for city services is an administrative function, so any decision to break the contract rests with the city’s administration, said Lisa Eliason, the city’s law director. It is not something the City Council can do. 

Breaking the contract with Rumpke has been a critical part of the COG planning because AHRC’s revenue from the garbage service it used to provide Athens covered much of the expense of operating the recycling and composting facility, said AHRC Executive Director Crissa Cummings.

“The city of Athens has a really large role in how we were designed,” Cummings said. “So the entire business model that was put together for what is essentially a social enterprise centered around the city of Athens and providing services to the city of Athens.”

“And so it’s going to be really challenging, if not impossible,” she said, to make up for this lost income.

Cummings said fundraising efforts are underway to keep the facility operating. But without a more permanent source of funding, she said, at some point the operation will no longer be sustainable.

One possible source of steady revenue to keep the facility afloat would be a tax. Athens City Council Member Alan Swank said the Athens Hocking Solid Waste District is considering a parcel tax, which is like a property tax.

“It would generate on an annual basis hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue which could go to help support a scaled down version of AHRC,” Swank said. “By doing that, the assets, the buildings, the composting facility, which a lot of money has been invested in over the years, could still be preserved and used.”

The solid waste district and the village of Amesville are the two members of the COG so far. An ordinance that would have Athens join the COG is moving through the City Council. Officials in Nelsonville and Logan have expressed interest in joining.

The COG would absorb the assets of AHRC probably in July, Cummings said.