This week, city officials attempted to correct the public's "misinformation" about a proposed move of the Calhoun Recycling Center from its current space, yet numerous questions remain concerning the future of its operations and where it will be based.
Over the past few years, Calhoun City Schools has shared its warehouses off Pine Street with the city's recycling center. and over time, the school district has needed more of the warehouse space to store furnishings, equipment and construction materials, according to Superintendent Michele Taylor.
When the recycling cneter moved into the warehouse, they were able to use most of the building's space. Yet currently, the center only occupies about 12 percent of the facility, according to City Recycling Coordinator Judy Peterson, which they use to gather and bale cardboard – the center's main source of revenue.
The school district reached out to Assistant City Administrator Paul Worley on Nov. 8 to ask what the long plan range was for the recycling center, as CCS wanted the remainder of the warehouse space for storage, operations and filing records, Taylor said in an email. The district's administration said they wanted the space by April/May, and after a requested extension from the city, a June 1 date was given, according to Taylor.
"We're not forcing anybody out by June 1," Taylor said. "June 1 was the date they were aware that we would be moving additional items into the warehouse. That's some misinformation that's out there."
According to Taylor, at the beginning of the year, CCS Facilities and Operations Director Tom Griffith
started meeting with city officials, including his father-in-law Mayor Jimmy Palmer, and recycling center staff to determine where a new recycling building could be.
This discussion began before the end of last year, but wasn't brought up with the City Council until March 11 during a work session. But, City Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo, who oversees the recycling center and gives monthly reports to the council on its operations, did not find out about the proposed changes until last week, she said. She wasn't able to attend the March 11 work session and wasn't informed about the details of the meeting until a week later. She said she expected to know of these developments months before now.
Palazzolo, along with other council members and Palmer, received an official email on March 20 from Worley providing an update for the city's recycling operations. She said she learned of the updates a couple days prior to the email being sent, despite the center being under her domain of responsibility.
Worley's email gave an update on why the recycling center would be moving out of the warehouse, and then explained how Worley, Palmer and other city staff had been working to find another location for the cardboard baling operations.
Since city officials had a hard time finding a facility within the budgeted $170,000 from 2018 SPLOST funds, saying "nothing has worked out," Worley said in his email that the process of baling cardboard would halt until a solution was found.
This update has raised questions, both from city employees and community members, regarding the future of recycling in Calhoun.
During the council's work session on Monday, Palazzolo brought up a few concerns to the mayor and council, to which Palmer said a lot of "misinformation" was circulating.
Palazzolo said that when the arrangement between the recycling center and the school district was made years ago, it was clear that the center's use of the warehouse was temporary. What she wasn't aware of until last week was that they needed to be out of the warehouse by June 1.
"When did we find out the information that we were going to lose the building?" Palazzolo asked Palmer, who confirmed it was in November. "I feel like we waited until just a few months before to start putting estimates out and to start figuring out the game plan. That bothers me greatly."
Palmer responded by turning to Worley, who said estimates have been started since the end of the year, but have taken more time than expected to be returned. Palazzolo commented that the "transparency, the communication has not been there."
In the time since she found out about the situation, the councilwoman has worked with Peterson and Momon Construction to get an estimate for building a new facility, which came back at $172,500.
On Monday night, the mayor said he didn't want to settle for the Momon bid since it wouldn't lead to growth for the future of the recycling center.
Palazzolo has sent Momon's estimate to other council members and the mayor, and has yet to receive a reply. She also proposed an idea that the recycling center facility could be added on to the new Calhoun Police Department station on McDaniel Station Road, which the city is still working to finalize funding for.
Palmer said that no solution proposed to help the recycling center grow in the future was off the table. However, he expressed disinterest in the Momon bid as well as Palazzolo's proposal for the recycling center to be part of the new police station construction.
"I don't personally think recycling will be a part of the new police station," Palmer said.
Regardless of if the center can find a facility in the near future or now, the drop-off center on Pine Street will still remain for locals to drop off their recycling, said Worley, they just won't have a building to produce bales of cardboard.
Both Palazzolo and Palmer have been receiving phone calls, emails and messages from community members who have heard that the recycling center will no longer have a home after June 1 if something doesn't work out.
"It's just misinformation," Palmer said of the public's comments. "I don't think of it as anything but a temporary setback. We're going to continue to recycling all the same things except cardboard won't be baled."
Palmer said in order to make up for the amount of cardboard that won't be baled, there will be additional bins set up around the city for collecting cardboard, which will be picked up with an increased frequency to current recycling pickup schedules.
Palmer also said the estimates for constructing a new recycling center — based on Worley's research, which started in November — ranged from $350,000-$400,000, which was way out of budget.
Palazzolo asked if the issue of the recycling center's future was going to be discussed and voted on by the entirety of the city council, to which Palmer said they would need to get a time and place where all council members could attend. When Palazzolo asked when that could be, no answer was provided.
Later on Monday, Worley sent out a public notice from the city explaining the situation, also using the term "misinformation." The notice said the city would "temporarily suspend the baling of cardboard" and that the only change to the department would be that "the city will ship all materials to a larger industrial recycling center that can process the material in a more cost effective manner."
When asked later Monday about when cardboard baling would resume, Worley said, "It's more like an indefinite suspension."
"We can't put it into a time frame," he said. "There is no time estimate."
The notice said the actual processing of recyclable material would be adjusted to decrease the overall cost to taxpayers. However, when Palmer and Worley were asked how much money would be saved, they were unable to provide any specific numbers or estimates.
"I don't think you can give that number until you totally evaluate things," Palmer said.
The "larger industrial recycling center" mentioned would likely be one in Dalton, as Worley said the city was looking at working with Caraustar Industries.
Industries. Should this partnership pan out, the cardboard from Calhoun would have to be shipped to Dalton, which would cost more than how cardboard is currently being picked up, according to Palazzolo. Currently, cardboard is picked up for the recycling center through a free service by Mauldin Trash Services.
After Monday's evening City Council meeting, Palmer maintained his belief that the recycling center wouldn't change much as a result of the suspension of baling operations. and even though he said the lack of a determined plan for the center's future has nothing to do with finances, in the same breath he said the center loses money each fiscal year.
"I am not opposed to recycling," Palmer said. "I'm trying to do what's best for the community and continue recycling. (People) think we're closing the whole center down, but we're moving forward with recycling."
When asked why Palazzolo wasn't made aware of the situation until recently, Palmer answered the question by stating email invitations were sent to each council member for budget meetings and the recycling center was a topic covered at one of these meetings. With specific regards to Palazzolo, Palmer didn't want to comment.
Though asked three times about the specifics of how much the city would save with the drawback on recycling operations, the mayor pointed back to how he didn't see a great deal of change coming for the recycling center.
"I imagine there will be some savings in that due to the fact of whether that be employees, whether it be different things," Palmer said. "I'm sure there are going to be some savings."
Peterson said if the mayor's plans include paying Santek to pick up the center's materials in the future, which was also briefly mentioned in the work session, there would be no transparency as to where the materials are going. She said Santek's services would cost more and the city would have no way of knowing if those recyclables were being diverted from the landfill or not.
Palazzolo, who said she was blindsided by this development and should have known by January at the latest, said the recycling center isn't being held to the same standard as the other public services, such as the recreation department and Fields Ferry Golf Course.
The councilwoman said the golf course hadn't made any profit until recently, and had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, as compared to the recycling center's tens of thousands of dollars a year.
"I understand there are people not passionate about recycling and I get it," Palazzolo said. "But there are also people not passionate about golf. It upsets me greatly that a decision was made with no conversation."
Despite the claims of the public attaining misinformation, not many questions have been answered. Palazzolo said she was going to be bringing back up the issue at the next City Council work session, and that she would be pushing for a conversation that included the entire council and mayor.
And yet despite the city's future halting of cardboard baling – which Peterson said would be detrimental to the growth of the recycling center – and plans for paying Santek to pick up materials instead of letting Mauldin keep picking it up for free, the mayor and the assistant city administrator say recycling will still continue to develop.
"I promise you, recycling is strong and going," Palmer said. "There are several things that distorted the truth. We're not out to destroy recycling."