County residents trash recycling tax district plan

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

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    Another public hearing on rural recycling options will be held at 7 p.m. April 1 at the Orange County Department of Social Services, 113 Mayo St. in Hillsborough.

— Collecting a new property tax to pay for the county’s rural curbside recycling program is unnecessary and unfair, residents told the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs invited comments on a proposed solid waste tax service district or any other ideas for funding the county’s rural recycling program after July 1. Just over half of the 13,700 curbside-eligible rural households regularly use the service now. It could grow to include 15,500, officials have said.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough pick up their residents’ trash and recycling but could contract with the county for recycling next year.

The county needs new funding after a 2012 court decision cast doubt on its authority to levy one of three fees supporting the program. All county residents continue to pay a flat recycling fee and a convenience center fee based on the type and location of their homes. The county does not pick up trash.

The commissioners have a few funding options, from charging a subscription fee and letting rural residents opt out to establishing a rural service district. Households in the proposed service district could pay a 1.5-cent tax for every $100 in property value.

The owner of a $200,000 home would pay a $30 tax bill.

A quarter of the roughly 80 people at Tuesday’s meeting spoke. Only three favored a solid waste tax service district. Subscription service and opt-out clauses could discourage people from recycling, they said.

The Orange County Commission for the Environment supports a tax service district, said vice chairman Loren Hintz. It promotes county goals to have a clean environment and air, be free of roadside litter and reduce energy use and the amount of trash that has to be hauled away, he said.

“The individual cost of the new tax district is similar to the old recycling fee. It is a relatively small cost compared to the benefit the recycling program will give the entire county,” he said.

Extended convenience center hours would be more helpful than curbside pickup, many residents said.

Efland resident Steve Hopper said it makes more sense for him to haul his trash and recycling to the convenience center rather than down a 900-foot driveway in a roll cart. Other residents agreed, some saying their driveways end in slopes and ditches, not curbs.

Bingham Township resident Bonnie Hauser said the county could offer a short-term, curbside pickup subscription service that lets residents opt out, while working with the towns on a longer-term plan. Hauser is a candidate for county commissioner.

Catawba County, with the state’s top recycling program, offers discounts and incentives to residents who recycle, Hauser said. Private haulers and small trucks serve rural curbside customers, and the rest pay for each bag of trash at convenience centers, she said. Recycling is free.

“There are countless examples throughout the state where counties provide curbside recycling to rural areas, in some cases at no charge. I cannot find any county that forces its citizens to pay for convenience centers and curbside services,” she said.

Eastern Orange County resident Ed Cerne said he supports Hauser’s recommendations but thinks the commissioners have already made their decision.

“Paying for recycling with a tax increase would mean that a retired couple on a fixed income living in a house that is valued at $280,000 would pay 30 percent more than a family of four living in a house with a tax value of $200,000. That just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin said he hasn’t made up his mind yet. Jacobs agreed.

“We take seriously the fact that a public hearing is to hear from the public. We actually do value what you say and take it into consideration in making our decision,” Jacobs said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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