FARMINGTON — The future of a Farmington-based recycling nonprofit group is uncertain now that its largest customer is considering leaving in favor a less expensive service.

The Sandy River Recycling Association, which serves 14 central Maine municipalities and parts of the unorganized territory, increased its fees overall by 31 percent last year and expects to increase its fees by a total of 88 percent this upcoming budget cycle.

That big jump has prompted Farmington town officials look for other recycling options.

Now, the annual municipal fees — based on a formula that considers population, travel distance and recycling — range from a low of $1,140 for Strong to a high of $14,815 for Farmington. The total annual cost for Farmington would increase by 49 percent, to $22,052.

The fee increases are the result of a decrease in prices for recyclable materials along with a decline in area recycling and competition from the single-stream industry, officials said.

Farmington had an offer from Archie’s Inc., a Mexico, Maine-based operation, to take over recycling for no cost to the town. According to the proposal to the town, the company would not charge an annual fee to the town for sorted recyclables and would only charge about $1 per bag to customers if the town wanted a single-stream option.

In recent years Kingfield, Mt. Vernon and Wilton also left the association for single-stream recycling. In single-stream operations, all recyclables are put in one container, and towns that have made the switch have reported increases in recycling and decreases in operation costs for the town.

The company previously reported it would maintain operations through reselling the recyclables.

Sandy River Recycling officials said Tuesday night at a meeting with Farmington selectmen that the town is its largest customer and they will have a hard time keeping operations going if they decide to withdraw.

“Sometimes it costs to do the right thing,” said Jo Josephson, the outgoing president of the recycling association.

The Sandy River Recycling Association began in 1990 in response to recycling legislation that was passed with the goal of increasing recycling to 25 percent of the state’s municipal solid waste by 1991 and 50 percent by 1994. Statewide recycling rates were 17 percent in 1990 and have increased to 35 percent by 2012, according to the association’s website.

Selectmen said they will weigh their options and revisit the issue Dec. 10 after they had a chance to review the information.

Sandy River officials estimated their total cost for sorted service among all the communities in 2014 would be $128,436, which would increase the total amount they charge in town fees by 88 percent overall.

Richard Doughty, Sandy River Recycling’s treasurer, told selectmen the association could switch to single stream and the total annual cost would be between $67,596 and $85,559 per year, depending on which company they contracted with to resell the recyclables.

Josephson said the nonprofit nearly depleted its $300,000 reserve fund over the last few years in an effort to keep annual costs low to the towns.

She said the despite efforts to cut costs, the amount paid for recyclables has continued to go down and the small nonprofit cannot offset operations costs enough through reselling the material.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252[email protected]