GIRARD — Gene Vogler, treasurer for the Southeast Kansas Recycling, Inc. addressed the Crawford County Commission on Friday about the financial situation at the SEK Recycling Center.
Over the past five years, the recycling center has lost money every year except 2017, Vogler said.
“I wanted to target the commodities of cardboard, paper and plastic, which have shown dramatic drops in the last two years especially,” he said. “The cardboard and paper is due to primarily the change in the business. The customers that that paper was going to, primarily China I guess, they’ve changed the way they’re doing things and they’re not taking paper anymore so the market of that commodity has dropped tremendously.”
Where mixed paper could once be sold for $70 per ton, it now goes for only $20 per ton for the cleanest quality of paper and often cannot be sold for more than $5 per ton. Lower gas prices, meanwhile, have affected the price of plastic.
“I guess the bottom line is, to get to the end of the year we’re going to need $4- or 5,000 a month,” Vogler said.
Vogler noted that the county has previously helped the recycling center pay its bills when it was temporarily unable to do so on its own. In the past, however, SEK Recycling has generally seen this as a result of ups and downs in the economy and expected to be able to support itself again within a relatively short time frame.
“I don’t think that’s the case this time,” Vogler said. “I think this is a situation where we’re going to have to make some kind of a change in our operation.”
Over the years, Vogler said, SEK Recycling has made various efforts to reduce its dependence on commodity prices, such as accepting many other kinds of products besides standard recyclable materials that it can then resell locally. The center has also started buying some items in bulk such as clothing from area nonprofits that it can resell to offset its costs.
“So, you know, the business has changed, we tried to adjust to that change and open up other means of income, but quite frankly right now, we’re at a loss as to where we can go other than go see you guys,” Vogler said.
Commissioner Jeremy Johnson pointed out that documentation Vogler presented at the meeting showed that the center’s membership has increased significantly this year since the recycling center addressed the commission about its financial problems in the spring, and Vogler said this was true.
“When we talked to the county in the spring, when we first recognized that this was going to be an issue, it got some publicity and our membership soared, relatively, I mean it went up quite significantly. You might also notice our donations went up significantly,” he said. “But they’re not on a scale that’s going to be able to bail us out of this situation.”
Johnson asked whether SEK Recycling, which is a nonprofit, had pursued any other kinds of independent fundraising efforts. Vogler said aside from a few annual promotional events that raise awareness of the center, it has not.
In response to another question from Johnson, Vogler said SEK Recycling could be doing a better job of communicating with the public to give people an idea of the problems it is facing.
Both Johnson and Commissioner Tom Moody said if the county is going to do more to support SEK Recycling it would likely ask the center to make greater independent fundraising efforts.
Vogler said that if the recycling center had to shut its doors tomorrow, he thought it would be able to sell all its assets and pay all its debts.
Moody said, however, that the county commission did not want to see that happen.
Vogler said the recycling center has been making some efforts to cut costs. Roughly half of SEK Recycling’s total expenses of about $270,000 per year are labor costs.
“One of our employees has resigned and tomorrow is her last day and we’re not going to replace that employee,” Vogler said. “Part time, only 25 hours a week, but you know, that’ll be $1,000 a month.”
After looking at the county’s own budget and areas where money could potentially come from to help support SEK Recycling, County Counselor Jim Emerson and the commissioners said they would need more time to come up with a plan for how the county might be able to pay for those efforts. The commissioners and Vogler agreed to discuss the issue again at Tuesday’s commission meeting.