KITTANNING – A week after announcing that the Armstrong County Recycling Center would close in July, county commissioners on Thursday were adamant that they are committed to bringing a new recycling program to the county.
On May 15, Commissioners Don Myers, Jason Renshaw and Pat Fabian announced that the recycling center, located off Route 85 at the Armsdale Complex, would close July 17.
“The current agreement with the Progressive Workshop of Armstrong County for the day-to-day operations of the facility, in place since June 2015, will not be renewed,” the commissioners said in a press release. “The Progressive Workshop of Armstrong County maintains a commitment to its staff and trainees and will place all staff and trainees into new positions within its existing programs. As a priority, the County of Armstrong will continue to explore fiscally responsible replacement options and alternatives to this program.”
On the heels of the county’s announcement, the Progressive Workshop’s CEO, L. Michelle Reefer, told media outlets that the decision was made by the county, and not by the Progressive Workshop. She said her agency was unaware of the county’s planned sale of the Armsdale Complex, including the recycling center property, until Jan. 1 of this year. She said that at that time, the workshop told the county it was not interested in leasing the land from the new owner as the county had requested.
Reefer also reportedly said that the center’s equipment is aging, and that the Progressive Workshop could no longer sustain the annual losses of $50,000 a year or more to operate the center.
In response at their meeting last Thursday, the commissioners said they were disappointed by the comments made by Reefer and the Progressive Workshop, including a social media post allegedly made by Reefer that encouraged people to toss their recyclable items on the commissioners’ lawns.
“We deal with facts, not opinion,” Fabian said, noting that he felt it was impossible to believe that the Progressive Workshop was unaware of the county’s plans to sell the property. He said that the county had struck a deal for the land and mineral rights to the tune of $220,000, but at the “eleventh hour,” the deal was scuttled by the Progressive Workshop’s actions.
“That cost taxpayers $220,000,” Fabian said, noting that the workshop was unwilling to work with the county on the deal.
He said that while the Progressive Workshop was once well run, “it nose-dived” when the new director came on board. He said it was unreasonable for the workshop to ask the county to pay 100 percent of the costs for the center.
“We worked every which way but sideways,” he said of efforts to find a solution to keep working with the Progressive Workshop. He noted that the county even pledged additional resources.
“She [Reefer] didn’t want to do it, and she doesn’t want to look bad,” he said.
Myers said it was never the county’s intent to end the recycling program, but that the current arrangement did not work financially for the county. He said recommendations were made to operate the center more like a business, but that the Progressive Workshop was reluctant to make any changes.
“How do you ask taxpayers to dig deeper when where are other alternatives?” Myers asked.
Renshaw said the county asked the Progressive Workshop for a financial plan, but they the organization did not have one. He also said the workshop failed to notify the county that new equipment was needed at the recycling center.
“They’re choosing not to do these things,” he said, noting that the county tried to work with the group but got nowhere. “It’s disgusting and disturbing. It’s very disheartening.”
Fabian said the Progressive Workshop officials were very “unprofessional,” and that he has been so frustrated in trying to work with that group.
Myers said the county will now look into other models to operate a recycling program.
“This all just came down really,” he said. “We are working on a plan.”
Fabian said the commissioners have a lot of ideas sketched out, and want to talk with other counties on how they operate recycling programs.
“We want to do it better than what we’ve done,” he said. “We are committed to doing recycling in Armstrong County.”
For now, though, the program is set to end in July, which includes the recycling drop-off sites throughout the county.