Although budget talks currently dominate the agenda of the Perry City Council, some attention was reserved at Monday’s meeting for personnel matters, with the council blessing Mayor Jay Pattee’s appointment of Eric Vaughn as the city’s new chief of police.

Vaughn will replace outgoing veteran Chief Dan Brickner, whose retirement begins tomorrow, Feb. 1.

Pattee said he has "every confidence" that Vaughn will serve Perry with the same expertise and professionalism that Brickner brought to the job over two decades.

Council Member Phil Stone said the council’s personnel committee, which recommended the appointment, "asked some tough questions" of Vaughn and came away satisfied he was the right man for the position.

The council also approved the hiring of Sven Peterson in the newly created position of assistant city administrator. Peterson is in line eventually to secure appointment to the administrator’s post as current City Administrator Butch Niebuhr edges toward retirement.

Part of Peterson’s first duties will be to take up any slack in the Parks and Recreation Department following the recently announced resignation of Recreation Coordinator Zack Eggleston, who has accepted a job in Des Moines. Money saved on Eggleston’s salary will help offset the cost of adding Peterson’s position to city payrolls.

The balance of Monday’s meeting was given to the first of the council’s budget work sessions. City Finance Officer Susie Moorhead began by briefing the council on Perry’s current fiscal situation, including the expected drop in revenues entering city coffers and the unavoidable outlays city services require.

"How do we make more cuts when we’ve already cut the heck out of every department," asked Council Member Dr. Randy McCaulley, voicing a concern on all members’ minds.

As expected, the recycling program came in for intense scrutiny by the council. The program used to generate revenue, but a glance at the current market in recyclables tells why the losses are now adding up.

As recently as 2011, recyclable plastic was fetching $270 a ton. Now it sells for $25 a ton, and the story is the same all down the line: mixed paper has fallen from $120 a ton to $10, cardboard from $160 to $35, tin from $290 to $20.

"So we pay our guys to bale it and then pay to have it picked up," Butler said.

After starting as a revenue source, recycling is now close to a net loss to the city, so alternative arrangements are up for consideration by the council.

One possibility involves changing the service from curbside pickups to centrally located drop-offs.

"If we stop curbside pickups," Niebuhr said, "there will be no going back to creating another recycling department within the city government. We’ll never have our own curbside recycling again but will have to bring in a company from Des Moines."

"I would hate to see us minimizing services," Council Member Charles Schott said. ""If we could increase the number of people recycling, the cost would go up. But would this be a positive or a negative?"

Niebuhr answered if everyone in town recycled, "less would go to the landfill, and that would save us money." Perry pays a tipping fee to dump its waste at the former North Dallas Sanitary Landfill, which is now owned by Des Moines’ Metro Waste Authority and is called Metro Park West.

Raising rates on residential garbage pickup is another possible way to address the lost revenue, as is a new commercial recycling fee.

"If we change the system," Pattee noted, "the recycling volume will drop and the garbage volume will increase, which means higher tipping fees."

A new fee for commercial customers, some of whom produce twice the volume of recyclable cardboard that they do garbage and enjoy five-day-a-week pickups, seemed to interest council members.

"We’re not charging businesses anything for recycling pickup," Dr. McCaulley said, "and maybe we should look at a fee."

Council Member Schott said he was "willing to raise fees," and Council Member Barb Wolling said, "We should be able to sell a small fee increase."

The council will return to similarly thorny budget topics on Feb. 3.

"I hope the record will show," said Council Member Phil Stone, "that we are struggling with some very difficult issues, and none of the options are ones I especially like." He made a general appeal to city employees to look out for any new revenue sources.

"Help us reduce expenditures without cutting services," he said.