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State cuts threaten recycling program

A countywide green initiative could fall to red ink.

Funding for the job of Erie County recycling coordinator -- the chief person responsible for boosting the anemic recycling rate -- is being clouded by the state fiscal crunch, officials say.

A state grant for the coordinator program expires Dec. 31, and indications are that funding won't be renewed, county officials said. The state supports half the program's $114,000 annual cost, and municipalities contribute the other half.

The state and local funding pays the coordinator's annual salary of about $55,000, plus the costs of special efforts like electronics drop-offs and public information campaigns. The current coordinator is Gary Carrel.

"These are all things that should be done on a county level," said Paul Kranz, associate environmental quality engineer in the county Department of Environment and Planning, who oversees the recycling program. "If we're not doing it, who will?"

The Town of Hamburg passed a resolution this week calling on the county to support recycling through its own budget, in the absence of state funds.

"The recycling program is important," Councilman Kevin Smardz said. However, "I think it's going to be tough -- everybody's feeling the budget crunch."

County Executive Chris Collins is due to announce his 2009 budget proposal on Monday. If state funding does fall through, the county will try to continue the administration of recycling efforts with existing staff, Kranz said.

Erie County municipalities are far short of their goal to recycle 50 percent of solid waste by 2012. Their recycling rate averaged between just 15 percent and 17.5 percent in 2006, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Local governments are under a state mandate to boost recycling of waste such as paper, glass and metal, in order to reduce the use of landfills. The recycling coordinator serves as the administrator of the regional Solid Waste Management Plan for municipalities around the county, with the exception of Buffalo, keeping track of statistics and filing quarterly reports with the state.

Municipalities, which are grouped into two regional boards for solid waste planning, plan to continue paying their share of the coordinator funding, Hamburg's resolution states. An application for continued state funding for 2009-2011 is pending, Kranz said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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