Published: Mar 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2013 08:41 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - Residents and the Orange County Board of Commissioners asked for time last week to consider all the options surrounding a proposed change in rural recycling..
The county currently handles recycling for rural and urban customers with curbside collection and at five convenience centers. A new proposal would privatize rural curbside collections through a franchise contract, leaving towns to pick up urban recycling.
Jeanette Doran, executive director of the nonprofit N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, said Orange County’s existing program is unlawful because it sets a mandatory recycling fee that is not allowed under state law. The institute has considered suing the county over its program and is monitoring the situation, she said.
Local governments can only operate in North Carolina under the authority that the legislature gives them. The state has said counties can only impose the fee on a voluntary basis, she said.
Assistant County Manager Michael Talbert said Thursday the county is weighing its options. A private hauler might not pick up all the materials now recycled but could serve more homes, he said. Nothing would change before July 2014.
Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson said privatization raises several issues, including quality and cost of services and maintaining local recycling levels. Orange County leads the state with a 59 percent recycling rate, officials said. The county is disposing only 0.56 tons/person compared to 1.36 tons in the state’s base year of 1991-92.
Joe Clayton, a former county recycling manager, said franchising can create a poorly operated system.
“Don’t look outside the box, but make the box bigger. If you’re saying that because we’re only selectively picking up people that we may be afoul of the law … we should have universal collection by the county for the county residents,” he said.
Privatization also could cost jobs, residents said. Roughly 12 private haulers – roughly four of them local – now serve the county. A franchise could mean an exclusive contract with one or two haulers.
County Manager Frank Clifton has been working with town managers on a potential bid request. Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil said the towns might piggyback on the county’s agreement, attracting more vendors and a better price.
The towns and county agreed in December that Orange County would continue to handle recycling. They have been working for three months to draft a new agreement to replace one that expires when the Eubanks Road landfill closes June 30.
For now, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will take their trash to a Waste Industries facility in southern Durham, while the county and Hillsborough are going to a City of Durham transfer station.
Carrboro Town Manager David Andrews and Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson said the county’s privatization proposal was a surprise. Stancil said Chapel Hill planned to seek other options anyway but will have to replace the county fees.