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Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
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Largo considers rate hike for trash, recycling

LARGO — Residents may see the first trash and recycling rate hike in more than a decade next year as the city faces changes in the global recycling landscape and rising costs.

The potential 20 percent increase, which would bring the rate for residential customers from $17.65 to $21.18 a month, came up this month during a City Commission meeting to discuss the city’s five-year financial projections. City officials also discussed challenges for the city’s golf course, lessons learned from Hurricane Irma and long-term infrastructure projects.

The trash and recycling rate hike is in part due to changes in the recycling industry. Much of processed recyclable material in the U.S., including from Largo, is exported to China, said Brian Usher, public works director. However, Chinese officials have upped the standard of what they’re willing to accept, leaving fewer places to send the material.

"There’s this giant ripple effect that goes down the line," Usher said.

Largo is under contract with a waste management service that allows the city to get some money back per ton of recyclables, Usher said. But that agreement expires in February 2019, compounding the problem. City officials are projecting the changes could result in a fiscal U-turn: $300,000 in recycling revenue flipping to a $350,000 expense.

Usher said his department is working on options to bring to city commissioners to handle the transition. He added that the solid waste rate has not increased since 2007 as costs for fuel, manpower and disposal have risen.

"We’ve stretched it as long as we can," he said.

The city is also planning to set aside money in the solid waste fund for debris removal, a takeaway from Hurricane Irma’s long, expensive cleanup process. Usher said he’s still tallying up the bill, but he expects it to surpass $1 million.

Another area facing challenges is the city’s golf course. As popularity in the sport declines, the course is expected to start operating at a loss in the 2020 fiscal year. The city is planning to analyze the situation and come up with options, said City Manager Henry Schubert.

That could include contracting with an operator to run the course, shutting down the course and using the land for something else, or selling the property.

"We think it’s important to just start looking at that," Schubert said.

Officials also plan to address the long-term future of several city buildings in need of repair, including reconstruction of fire stations 38, 39 and 42; replacement of a building at the Bayhead Complex and Action Park, which is home to summer camps and restrooms for park visitors; and replacement of the Southwest Recreation Complex.

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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