As Lagniappe has previously reported, Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast’s agreement to operate Mobile County’s recycling center in West Mobile has not exactly gone according to plan.
Last fall, dips in commodity prices for much of what the center accepts to resell — glass, paper, plastic, aluminum — led to overall losses for the nonprofit organization.
The Commission voted to cover those losses with a $50,000 allocation in December taken from oil revenues generated by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), but with continued fluctuations in the prices of material, Goodwill Easter Seals asked for and received some additional assurance from the county this week.
In a 2-1 vote, commissioners agreed to match up to $150,000 a year for the next three years for any actual losses Goodwill Easter Seals can link to commodity pricing. The county also agreed to take over the maintenance and capital repairs to certain pieces of equipment used at the facility.
“Goodwill Easter Seals is appreciative of the commission, and their concern is, they don’t want to lose money, all they want to do is break even. So far, though, they have not been successful in doing that,” Mobile County Attorney Jay Ross said. “At the end of that three-year period, if the model isn’t working, then everybody will need to re-evaluate.”
However, where the money will come from when and if it’s needed isn’t entirely clear at this point. Commissionier Connie Hudson has maintained that, if Goodwill Easter Seals needed additional monies, they could be pulled from the county’s’ GOMESA funding, but Ross said Monday there’s no way to know whether that funding would available — meaning it could come out of the county’s general fund.
As one of driving forces behind the grant funding that secured the recycling center’s construction, Hudson voted to approve the backstop for Goodwill Easter Seals. Commissioner Jerry Carl voted against it.
“You know, we get these projects … we get these buildings, and when they bleed we think putting a Band-Aid on it is going to stop the bleeding,” Carl said. “It never does.”
Despite those concerns, the measure ultimately passed with support from Commission President Merceria Ludgood, who agreed the center had been a net positive for the county. She also said the next three years would allow time to analyze trends in the recycling industry and, if necessary, “look at an exit strategy” for both parties.
“We’re government: Sometimes things we do pay for themselves, sometimes they don’t,” Ludgood added. “Sometimes we just provide services. That’s the nature of our work.”