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Charlie Gerdes wants to turn dead leaves into teen jobs

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

St. Pete City Council will hear a staff report pertaining to the city’s estimated 40,000 tons of yard waste dumped at the city’s brush sites each year. A sole bidder, Consolidated Resource Recovery, is asking for more than $427,000 each year to grind that waste into mulch.

That works out to $329 per hour for the service.

It’s one of those items that typically flies under the radar and is approved in a blanket motion to approve items on the city’s consent agenda. This particular contract would be valid for three years and contains a provision that allows for an even higher price tag depending on the cost of diesel fuel.

But the agreement may not sail to easy adoption as expected. According to the Tampa Bay Times, City Council member Charlie Gerdes has a better idea – purchase the equipment, grind the brush in-house and sell it for $1 a bag.

Gerdes, who removed the item from consent last week, suggested it was a way to cut costs, possibly make a buck and even employ extra workers.

Those jobs, he said, could go to at-risk youth.

Gerdes reasoning is sound. The cost to purchase two grinders for the city is about $500,000 – only slightly more than the annual cost of paying another company to turn residents’ yard clippings into mulch.

At-risk teens in the city could then bag the mulch and sell it for far less than what residents would pay at a home improvement store. Gerdes told the Times it “looks like an entrepreneurial opportunity.”

As it is, the city collects yard waste at one of the city’s five brush sites. Materials are then transported to the Lake Maggiore site by the city where they are grinded. Currently, much of the recycled materials are given out as free mulch with others being used for things like sod, compost and bio-mass fuel.

According to the Times, Gerdes is recommending that the city approve a one year contract instead of three so that the city can look into the viability of processing yard waste in house.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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