County puts more rural recycling options on table

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

— With a July 1 deadline months away, the Orange County commissioners put three more options for continuing the county’s rural curbside recycling program back on the table Thursday.

The commissioners also voted to hold separate public hearings to hear which plan northern and southern residents prefer.

Commissioner Penny Rich said they also should talk with Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough about the change, because officials have reached a tentative agreement to continue collaborating. Interim County Manager Michael Talbert agreed the change could cause some conflict.

The county relied for years on three fees to pay for curbside pickup at some rural homes and to handle urban recycling. The towns collect their residents’ recycling and trash.

One of the county’s fees, based on the home type and location, was dropped after a 2012 state court ruling cast doubt on its collection authority. Two remaining fees – a $47 basic fee for all county residents and a convenience center fee based on home’s type and location – and money in the county’s solid waste fund are covering recycling costs through June 30.

Curbside recycling is now provided to 13,700 rural homes, but Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson said only about 57 percent regularly use the bins. Other rural residents take their recycling to one of five county convenience centers.

Relying solely on the convenience centers for rural services could prove to be inconvenient, Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said.

4 possible options

The commissioners voted in December to move ahead “with the intent” of establishing a solid waste service district, but Thursday’s decision again leaves residents with four options:

• A solid waste service district, similar to a fire service district, charging rural homeowners eligible for curbside recycling a fee based on their property value. This appeared to be the board’s preferred option heading into Thursday’s meeting.

• A subscription-based program with a flat fee and the option to opt-out or drop the service

• Pay for the program from the county’s general fund

• Drop curbside recycling for rural residents altogether in favor of the convenience centers

Staff will bring more information to the commissioners’ Feb. 4 meeting. Public hearings will be held in late March or early April; letters will be mailed to affected property owners in February.

The board could make a final decision by mid-April.

Cost comparison

Interim County Manager Michael Talbert said expanding the district to include 15,500 rural residents would cost $630,000 next year, or about 1.5 cents per $100 in property value. The dropped fee was $38 for single-family, rural homes and $19 for multifamily homes.

Under the new fee, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $45 a year. That could change depending on many factors, including whether the towns authorize the county to collect a recycling fee on their behalf.

A subscription-based fee could cost customers roughly $58 in the first year, Talbert has said. Wilson said up to 25 percent of eligible rural customers, or fewer than 4,000, could be expected to opt out of a subscription program.

If you include the towns, that’s less than 5 percent of the homes dropping curbside pickup, Commissioner Earl McKee said.

“A lot of the people who were paying the curbside fee were opting to take their recycling to the convenience centers,” he said.

The county currently diverts about 58 percent of its trash to recycling.

McKee also questioned a county plan to buy 14,000 96-gallon rollout carts this year at a cost of $1.3 million if nearly half the rural residents who now pay for curbside pickup aren’t using it regularly. Wilson said the demand would be assessed prior to buying the carts.

Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs said another option is letting rural residents continue using their orange recycling bins.

Cart complaints

Several rural residents again asked the commissioners to offer the curbside recycling program only to those who want it.

The carts don’t work with long, gravel driveways and uneven terrain at rural homes, speakers said. And since the county doesn’t pick up the trash, too, many rural folks just take the recycling with them when they take trash to the convenience centers, they said.

Old Greensboro Road resident Ken Robinson said he’s tired of having to collect his recycling every time someone drives by and knocks the bins out of the narrow right of way and into the ditch. It’s a tough climb up his 450-foot gravel driveway with a bin or cart anyway, he said.

“What’s the problem we’re trying to solve? When I go to the recycling center, there’s lots of people there, and I’ve got to go there to take my trash (anyway),” he said. “I dump two instead of one, and it’s quicker than it is to roll out or get a wheelbarrow and carry the stuff out to the street and bring it back, wait for it. It’s a pain in the neck.”

Residents who still want curbside service could hire one of several local, private haulers, Bingham Township resident Bonnie Hauser said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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