WASHINGTON — The number of state employees with waste management responsibilities has fallen by nearly 10 percent since the end of the recession, and it will continue to fall in the coming years, according to a new report from Waste Management, the nation’s largest waste management contractor.
In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016, state waste management workers with waste-management responsibilities in Utah fell by more more than 12,000 positions, a 7.9 percent decline.
The Utah Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the department is notifying employees of the cuts and that it is looking for additional staff to fill vacant positions.
The state’s overall job losses were worse than in the previous three quarters, but that was partially offset by a slight uptick in jobs with waste and recycling programs, said Mike Rizzo, Waste Management’s chief executive officer.
“We are seeing tremendous growth in waste management programs across the state,” Rizzos said.
The cuts in waste- and recycling-related jobs come at a time when Utah has one of the nation�s largest collections of plastic waste, including millions of plastic bags, bags, bottles, cans, glass bottles, bottles of water and a variety of other plastic products.
The department, which has the largest collection in the nation of plastic bottles and plastic containers, also plans to add more waste-treatment facilities and a new wastewater treatment plant.
The report found that Utah�s overall job loss rate was 4.6 percent, but the number of employees who lost their jobs was higher than the national average.
The overall jobless rate for state workers in Utah was 11.4 percent, and Utah�droughts have increased unemployment by 5.9 percentage points since 2011, the report said.
Utah also saw the largest increase in the number and percentage of employees working in waste and recyclables management positions.
In fiscal year 2017, the department lost nearly 5,000 waste management positions, compared with 2,300 in fiscal year 2014, the study said.
In total, the Utah Department is cutting about 1.8 million state jobs since the recession ended.
The Department of Agriculture is among those agencies cutting waste management employees, which account for about two-thirds of the department�s total workforce.
The agency plans to hire 5,500 new workers in fiscal 2018, Rizzoos said.
State Rep. Mark Sargent, R-Henderson, said the report was a wake-up call for the Legislature.
“It�s not a bad thing for Utah, but it�s a bad situation when you have so many people in the workforce who are not doing what they should be doing,” he said.
Sargent said Utah should also focus on hiring more people to clean up the state�s water, wastewater and other waste and recycle problems.
He said the state is also looking for a new waste management administrator.
“This is a crisis that we have not seen before,” he told The Associated Press.
“I don�t think the Legislature has a clue what the solutions are.
We are trying to figure out how to get the economy back on track.”
Rizzoos acknowledged the state has been struggling to find a waste-recovery administrator.
But he said the budget cuts are part of a larger trend in Utah, which he said is seeing the erosion of the public�s trust in government.
“I think we are at a point where it�d be a really good thing if we were to have a new administrator, to have someone who is able to step in and make sure that waste and reuse are handled properly,” Rizos said, adding that he believes the legislature has to act quickly.
The Legislative Auditor�s office found that about $2 billion in the state budget was lost because of the budget crisis.
It said that about 1,200 employees lost their positions during the recession.
In its most recent fiscal year, the state government reported spending $3.2 billion, $2.4 billion less than it reported in the first half of the year.