Chapel Hill council will weigh recycling options Wednesday

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2013 

  • How it works

    Orange County’s recycling program serves all three towns and 13,700 rural homes in specific areas.

    For many years, the county has collected curbside recycling from eligible rural homes and accepted recycling at its Eubanks Road facility from private haulers contracted to provide town residents with curbside service. Rural residents living outside areas eligible for curbside pickup take their recycling to the county’s five convenience centers.

    Since 2004, the county has paid most recycling program costs with a set of 3-R fees – waste reduction, reuse and recycling – and a convenience center fee. All residential households paid the convenience center fee, based on where and in what type of home they live. All developed properties paid the basic 3-R fee, while urban households and rural homes eligible for curbside pickup paid a 3-R fee based on their home type and location.

    However, a decision last year in a Cabarrus County lawsuit cast legal doubt on Orange County’s authority to collect the tiered 3-R fee. The county dropped it but still collects the basic and convenience center fees.

    The county also paid roughly $1.75 million from its reserves to support this year’s recycling program. Officials have until June 30, 2014, to find a way to keep the program going.

    The current fees for all households are:

    • Rural, single-family home, curbside eligible: $47 basic fee, $40 convenience center fee.

    • Rural, single-family home, not curbside eligible: $47 basic fee, $40 convenience center fee.

    • Urban, single-family home: $47 basic fee, $20 convenience center fee.

    • Multifamily homes: $47 basic fee, $4 convenience center fee per dwelling.

    The towns and the county handle trash collection separately. After the Orange County Landfill closed in June, the county and Hillsborough started trucking their trash to a city of Durham waste transfer station. Chapel Hill and Carrboro take their trash to a Waste Industries transfer station in southern Durham.

— The Town Council will talk Wednesday about how to continue a local recycling program and handle the town’s future trash.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Chapel Hill Public Library.

The town could find its own solution or work with Carrboro, Hillsborough and, potentially, the county. The governments must have a plan in place before June 30, when the county’s longtime recycling program will run out of money.

The towns and the county are expected to discuss their options Nov. 21 at the annual Assembly of Governments meeting.

Chapel Hill has been taking its trash to a Waste Industries transfer station in Durham County since earlier this year. The Orange County Landfill closed June 30 after roughly 40 years. Carrboro also is taking its trash to Waste Industries, while the county and Hillsborough have a contract with a city of Durham waste transfer station.

For years, private contractors trucked urban recycling to the county’s Eubanks Road facility, while the county collected curbside recycling from several thousand eligible rural homes and five convenience centers. The program was funded with a series of fees included with property tax bills.

However, a N.C. Supreme Court decision in a 2012 Cabarrus County case called into question the county’s authority to collect some fees. The county still charges the basic, countywide fee and a sliding-scale convenience center fee, but it used savings to fill this year’s budget gap.

Commissioner Penny Rich said the county is in a tough spot.

“We want to move forward, but we don’t know what the towns are doing,” she said. “It’s an award-winning program. We know it’s the best in the state. Our staff in recycling has worked so hard to get where we are, it would be disappointing to break it up.”

The top option so far is a solid waste service tax district that would charge everyone in the district a special property tax rate, similar to a fire service tax district. The program initially would cover existing service areas but could be expanded later, officials said.

The county would have to hold public hearings for all affected taxpayers early next year. The alternative is to get permission from the towns to charge urban residents a recycling services fee, attorneys said.

The amount of recycling collected will determine the program’s cost, interim Orange County Manager Michael Talbert said. Other questions include the number of households and how to set up a new program, he said.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Chapel Hill is still interested in a partnership, but the town’s report should give everyone more options.

“I also believe there’s a willingness to think about this in a new and different way, but we have to be sure we’re doing the best thing for Chapel Hill’s taxpaying citizens, among them making sure to be true to our values,” Kleinschmidt said.

Carrboro also is considering its options, Town Manager David Andrews said. In the short term, it might be better to work with the county, but the aldermen have left the door open for a joint operation with Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, he said.

Another option is asking the towns to take over recycling in nearby rural areas, commissioner Chairman Barry Jacobs said. Kleinschmidt said he hadn’t heard that option before, but it’s worth considering.

Two other options lack support: Creating a solid waste authority similar to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, or eliminating curbside recycling and letting the towns run their own program. Rural residents would still be able to take their recycling to the county’s convenience centers.

A residents’ group also asked the commissioners to consider a voluntary tax or county revenues to provide curbside recycling to the few rural homes that want it.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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