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HIGHLAND — The Town Council has approved a series of trash collection rate hikes that will be phased in through 2024.

The action followed a new four-year contract with Republic Services Inc. that began last month.

The contract also includes two optional one-year extensions.

Republic was the only refuse company, out of four invited, to present a bid, Public Works Director John Bach said.

"The proposed customer rate in the first year of the contract is $23.89 a month," Bach said, adding that this includes a 16% percent hike over the final year of the old contract.

The rate will increase on April 1 each year with the 2024 rate being set at $28.06 per month plus the recycling fee at that time.

The current recycling cost will be 77 cents per month and can be adjusted as recycling costs rise or fall, board members said.

Reductions or increases in the recycling costs will be passed along to the customers.

By going with an adjustable recycling rate, instead of a fixed one, the town is saving about $97,000 this year, Bach noted.

"The recycling market has dried up" with overseas destinations becoming more difficult, he said.

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"China is no longer accepting dirty recyclables," said Councilman Mark Herak, D-2nd. "They want clean, so the price of recycling continues to rise."

Herak added that there is really no market for recyclables these days.

The contamination is mostly in the form of residual foods that remain on a recycling item such as food left in a soup can.

Half of the recycling stream included mixed types of paper, which China has now banned.

Bach said that, if the cost should become too steep in the future, the town would have the option of canceling the recycling pick-ups.

Also under the new Republic contract, residents can continue using trash containers that are smaller than the standard 95-gallon cans.

However, there will no longer be a price break associated with the smaller containers for two reasons.

"It takes the same mechanical effort for a 35-gallon as it does a 95," Herak said. "And over time, the contractor has noticed that people with smaller containers place more garbage outside the container."

The council said it wants the residents to understand the increases and Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin expressed hope for a public forum to be held.

"We are being transparent," Herak said. "Keep in mind that only one contractor bid that was (received from) Republic. Waste Management chose not to bid namely because of recycling and the distance to their landfill."

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