City could begin using inmates for recycling, litter pickup again soon

Bayne Hughes, The Decatur Daily, Ala.
·3 min read

Apr. 16—The use of temporary employees at the Morgan County Regional Landfill's Recycling Center adds about $10,000 monthly to operating costs, but less expensive state inmate labor could become available next month or in June.

The city of Decatur also plans to ramp up litter pickup efforts when Limestone County Correctional Facility inmates have COVID-19 vaccination protection that makes them available for the first time since they were quarantined a year ago.

City Attorney Herman Marks presented a proposed agreement for use of Alabama Department of Corrections inmates to the City Council during a work session this week.

The one-year agreement says the city will pay inmates $15 a day and provide a supervisor trained to oversee the inmates. The agreement would begin this month if approved by the City Council, but the inmates wouldn't begin working until the prison system allows it.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement at its meeting Monday, which begins at 10 a.m. in City Hall.

The landfill used, and would like to use again, inmates at the Recycling Center for sorting and cleaning around the landfill office.

Landfill Director Wanda Tyler said the use of three to four temporary employees for sorting at the Recycling Center has cost $83,612 more than using inmate labor would have since mid-June.

Tyler said the Recycling Center spent an average of $14,800 a month on the $7.25 minimum wage temporary employees while she estimated using state inmates cost $4,500 to $5,000 a month. The cost of the employees or inmates comes out of the landfill budget.

She said she would like to use 10 to 12 inmates daily in the Recycling Center and one or two a day for the landfill. The landfill is a partnership of Decatur and Morgan County that's run by the city.

In 2019 when the city could still use inmates before the pandemic, the Recycling program generated only $240,000 in revenue, requiring the landfill to supplement the program's operation with $1.2 million.

After the Limestone Correctional Facility began quarantining inmates because of the pandemic, the landfill closed the Recycling Center from March until June last year and then began hiring temporary labor at minimum wage.

Aaron Lang, supervisor of maintenance for Parks and Recreation, said a Corrections official told him Monday that he expects the inmates will be available May 1 or June 1.

"They're starting to vaccine the inmates now and they will be available two weeks after their second vaccination shot," Lang said. "Then it will be up to the prison board when they will be available."

Lang said he typically used two crews with four inmates per crew to pick up litter around the city and he would like to add a third crew.

Parks and Recreation has been using a small skeleton crew of full-time employees "to hit mainly hot spots. It's been terrible, and we would like to pick up a lot more," Lang said.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.