By Michael Howell
The county commissioners last week agreed to accept $60,000 in grant funds from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fund a portion of Ravalli County Recycling, Inc.’s (RCR) business development plans. The approval of a local government agency was required for the company to receive the funds. Bitter Root Area Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) agreed to serve as grant administrator at no cost to the county.
The non-profit company has been operating a limited recycling drop off service at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds since September of 2010. They began under the auspices of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program but in December of 2010, RC&D took over as fiscal agent for the company. President of the company Bob Scott told the commissioners that as of October 2011 volunteers have donated over 3,500 hours in assisting the recycling service. He said that the company has been operating in the black for over a year with consistent sales revenue and a growing base of volunteers.
RCR came to the commissioners in October asking its support for a DEQ grant but the commissioners balked, citing a deficient business plan, among other things. On November 2, 2011, the commissioners delivered a letter to the company enumerating seven questions that they would like answered before considering the proposal again. On Monday, November 28, RCR officials brought the matter before the commissioners once again, having compiled answers addressing all of the commissioners’ concerns.
The company came with approval from DEQ for a $60,000 grant, based upon a revised business plan, if the commissioners would only agree to serve as the pass-through agency.
In a letter of support, they answered a few of the commissioners’ questions. First off, DEQ confirmed that the agency was ready to award the grant for the purchase of the equipment.
“We encourage the BCC to have faith in the commitment and perseverance of the volunteers that are already recycling without such equipment,” wrote Sandra Boggs, Recycling and Market Development Specialist for DEQ.
Boggs goes on to state that DEQ also approves of the leased location that RCR recently acquired. Although the site does not have the necessary electrical infrastructure to accommodate the baler which RCR has acquired and is currently sitting in storage, the operation of a baler is not necessary for the current grant award which is to provide equipment to facilitate ongoing operations. Although the baler will increase efficiency in transport and increase profitability of the company in the long run, it is not necessary to carry out the ongoing services “as proven by RCR’s track record of successful community recycling.”
Boggs stated that DEQ understands that the site is under lease for a year, at the end of which time it may be extended or a new location chosen.
“The Department supports either of these scenarios,” wrote Boggs. “DEQ believes that providing financial assistance with basic equipment purchases and initial staff support are critical to enabling RCR to grow into a fully-functioning organization that is self-funded.”
Boggs states that DEQ is confident of RCR’s ability to create a sustainable recycling program due to the success of similar programs elsewhere such as Shelby, Conrad, Eureka, and Miles City. She notes that RCR has the added benefit of being close to Missoula where there are several recycling businesses with which to negotiate purchase prices.
In response to concerns that a recycling license is needed, Boggs notes that the law requires that recycling operations attain the free license from the department, but that the license is not required to receive the grant. She states that other Montana programs have begun purchasing equipment and initiating operations based on grant funds received while they are in the process of acquiring the license.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz expressed lingering concerns about this at the meeting. Scott replied that the granting agency and the licensing agency were the same agency and that the company had no alternative but to work with the agency and proceed according to its procedures and requirements.
Doug Soehren, Project Manager for RCR, told the commissioners that the company was open for business for the first day at its new site across the street from the Fairgrounds and did a brisk business. He urged the commissioners to accept the grant funds as did Chamber of Commerce Director Rick O’Brien. Several other members of the public also spoke in favor of the grant.
The commissioners previously expressed concern about the fairness of government funding of a business that will be in competition with other businesses. Scott said that RCR has worked successfully to establish working relationships with every recycling business in the valley. The owner of a recycling business that just acquired a two-acre lot next to Victor Transfer and is currently being licensed spoke in favor of the grant. RCR officials argue that there is enough recycling to be done in the valley to accommodate all the existing businesses.
Commissioner Suzy Foss said that getting the cooperation of most existing recycling businesses and the aim to continue cooperating in the future was an important factor for her.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher stated that the idea of a free market was very important to him philosophically.
“When we have a private business struggling it gives me pause to use government money to fund his competition,” said Kanenwisher. He also noted that recycling was not a right and that the government’s job was “not to provide everything we want.” But, he said, those are policy decisions being made at the state level and the county is simply serving as a pass-through agency for the funding, so he was willing to accept that.
The motion to approve accepting the grant was passed on a 4 to 1 vote with Stoltz dissenting. He said that he still had concerns about operating a facility that was not licensed and that he was not satisfied that the current business plan was workable.