Curbside recycling has become an issue again in St. Petersburg, and the City Council is scheduled to discuss the topic today. I welcome those discussions and plan to continue to talk with Pinellas County officials about their proposal to provide curbside recycling within the city.
Here is my unfiltered view of the situation:
• I believe that in considering recycling alternatives, we should seek methods which reduce the material placed in our landfill, do not adversely impact greenhouse gas emissions of our area, and do not have a negative financial impact on our taxpayers.
• I continue to have reservations about curbside recycling. I have environmental concerns about the greenhouse gases emitted and fossil fuel consumed by the fleet of trucks required to pick up the material citywide. I also have financial concerns about the cost to the taxpayer, especially at a time when our citizens are feeling the financial burden of electric bills, property insurance and gasoline prices.
• The county is working on a proposal to use excess reserves built from solid-waste tipping fees paid countywide by cities (including St. Petersburg) and others to reimburse cities that currently have curbside recycling, enabling them to provide rate relief to the rate payers of those cities. The reserves also would pay for a new curbside recycling program in the unincorporated county and for St. Petersburg and other cities if we approve. The St. Petersburg city staff has had discussions with the county staff and commissioners expressing reservations and providing suggestions for the proposal. The city staff has suggested that the county credit all recycling efforts, not just curbside recycling, so that St. Petersburg rate payers may get some relief like those in the other cities. St. Petersburg has substantial recycling efforts, and costs relating to those efforts, for building materials, tree and brush materials, drop-off sites and others.
• Despite news reports to the contrary, I have not rejected an offer by the county to provide free curbside recycling to St. Petersburg residents. I have a willingness to find common ground with the county, which is still developing its proposal.
• I could support City Council member Karl Nurse's compromise proposal, which includes a curbside component. What I like about Karl's proposal is that it would reduce the greenhouse gas impact, include an increase of yard waste recycling (a major contributor to the landfill), and provide some rate relief to St. Petersburg taxpayers.
• If the City Council elected to go forward with a program that has no cost to St. Petersburg, I would not block it. However, I would strongly urge that it have components identified in Nurse's proposal that reduce greenhouse impacts of the program, increase agricultural waste recycled, and provide some rate relief to St. Petersburg taxpayers, in addition to the relief provided to other Pinellas cities.
Along with City Council Chairman James Bennett, I have led the effort for St. Petersburg to become designated by the Florida Green Building Coalition as Florida's first Green City. I have promoted energy and environmental programs throughout our state and country. I co-chair Gov. Charlie Crist's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change.
I believe that alternative energy and environmental issues are critical to the next 50 years of our country, and I am committed to being a part of that effort. My record has been, and will continue to be, to avoid efforts by those who work to divide us and to seek common ground to move our community forward and improve the quality of life for those who live here now and for those who will follow us.
Rick Baker is mayor of St. Petersburg.