FANWOOD, NJ – The Fanwood Council voted at Monday evening’s regularly scheduled meeting to authorize Mayor Colleen Mahr and Borough Clerk Eleanor McGovern with the ability to sign a shared services agreement with Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) for curbside pickup of recyclables. The curbside recycling program is set to begin shortly after Labor Day this year. It effectively will end an era in which Fanwood was the only town in Union County without a curbside recycling service.
The three-year agreement with PMUA and Colgate Paper Stock Co. will cost the borough and its taxpayers $120,000 annually. In comparison, the Fanwood Recycling Center requested an $80,000 budget in their most recent application for funding, a figure that represented a gradual increase in each of the last three years and twice as much as it was in the last year. In addition to the rising costs, the Fanwood Recycling Center faced shortcomings in the volume of recycling it was processing.
“Cost certainty is built into this contract,” suggested Councilman Kevin Boris. “What we’ve experienced in the past few years (with the Fanwood Recycling Center) is not cost certainty.”
Loss of the Fanwood Recycling Center’s 501(c)3 status was cited as the stimulating factor to seek alternative recycling options, which led the Council to pursue bidding from other providers. Declining recycling numbers – Fanwood had a substantially lower recycling rate than Garwood, a town of half the size – and increasing expenses led the governing body to its decision.
“The amount of money that the taxpayers are investing in the community is rising and the amount of tonnage which comes back to us in the form of a grant has been decreasing – numbers at the center have been declining,” explained Mahr. “We have to look at the entire community when we pay our taxpayers’ dollars and right now, we’re not providing a service for our entire community.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Katherine Mitchell abstained from the vote citing “unresolved issues” and was the only member of the Council to do so.
“There is no way that I can move the (recycling) bin myself up and down the hill,” said Mitchell, who echoed the concerns of many residents that voiced their fears during public comment at Monday evening’s meeting. “I cannot wholeheartedly say yes.”
Moving forward, the volunteers of Fanwood’s Recycling Center (currently closed) hopes to continue operating, despite a seemingly upward climb.
“We don’t have a clear definition of keeping the center going,” said Harry McNally, a long-time volunteer of the Fanwood Recycling Center. “We’re still trying to figure out how to work it to the advantage of Fanwood when and after curbside gets going. The center is starting to suffer, and we’re trying to get it going again.”
During public comment, approximately a dozen residents came to the podium to talk about the good that the recycling center had offered for decades and the features they’d miss most about it. They also addressed the concerns that they had with the new curbside pickup program including the moving and housing of heavy recycling bins to the streets.
“I feel it’s a disappointing loss for Fanwood,” said John Everson, a resident of the borough.
In the coming weeks, the Council will work to address these issues as they prepare set to launch the program in September 2016.