On Tuesday, the city commission learned that signups for a voluntary recycling program well exceeded projections, and that should not be a problem as city staff moves forward with building a new recycling program.

"Even though we have more than the anticipated 10 percent who wish to recycle, we will be fine," said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city.

Staff estimated about 725 customers would volunteer for the recycling program — that number was exceeded shortly after letters started coming back to the city offices. Tuesday, there were 2,341 customers signed up. About 64% of the letters sent by the city were returned.

The deadline for returning those letters was Monday. City workers began the process of switching containers — removing recycling carts for trash carts — Monday.

“We are getting lids switched out. ... If you did not get your letter back, we assume you do not want to recycle," Loomis said.

However, if a customer still wishes to continue recycling, the city will switch carts back if notified.

The city chose to launch a voluntary program after changes at the county level. Harvey County entered into a new contract with Waste Management, the provider of recycling sorting services for the county, last year and also dropped mandatory recycling rules.

That came from Wast Management's desire to have less contamination in the recycling it was processing and the renegotiation of contractual fees.

"We have to make sure that group that wants to recycle knows what they can recycle. ... We will continue working with folks and we will continue to establish how we work with people on this," Loomis said. "If we keep ending up with to much contamination, at some point we will need to say it is time to part ways with recycling."

Visual inspection of loads of recycling brought to the Harvey County sorting facility have been rejected after changes to the contract between Waste Connections and Harvey County — and that has affected Newton sanitation services.

The contractual change went into effect Jan. 1, allowing Waste Connections to reject loads with more than 10% contamination, issue fines to haulers and suspend dumping privileges for 30 days when loads are rejected.

According to Harvey County, all the loads from Newton were rejected, and trucks are still under restriction. Found in the recycling containers were shoes, extension cords, an office chair and soiled diapers.

"When a pan of lasagna, which we have had, gets dumped and smashed, it gets all over everything and contaminates the whole load," Loomis said.

On Jan. 1, Waste Connections began to reject loads with more than 10% contamination. The company also has the option issue fines and a 30-day suspension of dumping rights for trucks that exceed the 10% threshold a second time.

All Newton trucks are currently serving a 30-day suspension. Loads are being dumped at the transfer station and processed as trash.

The city is in the process of hiring an employee who will visually inspect recycling carts for contamination before they are picked up. 

Staff proposed a fee increase of $1.08 per month, per customer, whether they recycle or not. The city has about 7,200 trash/recycling customers. Doing away with recycling all together would have also led to a rate increase for all customers — about 34 cents per month.

The new fee structure will be seen on city bills in March.

Curbside or alley collections will cost $24.37 monthly. The city will provide a second trash cart to nonrecyclers without an additional fee.

Requirements include only recycling Nos. 1 through 7 plastics; glass food and beverage containers; aluminum and steel food containers; missed paper products; and corrugated cardboard. All recyclables must be clean. No Styrofoam, pizza boxes, plastic bags, toys, solid paper or shredded paper will be allowed.

If nonrecyclables are found in a container, residents could be subject to fines and removal from the recycling program.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved a project to renovate the main taxiway at the Newton City-County Airport. With the use of federal funds, the project will cost and estimated $427,00 for the city. The total cost is projected at $8.5 million.

• Approved and an amendment to Article XI of the Zoning Ordinances of the cities of Newton and North Newton, regarding sign regulations. The amendment reflects code language for North Newton.

• Accepted a bid for the construction of an airport waterline.

• Accepted a utility easement in Autumn Glen Fourth Addition.

• Received a year-end financial report.