Commentary

Norma White: County should reject unfair rural recycling tax district

March 21, 2014 

I read the Opinion article, “Tax District will keep us a recycling leader” by Jan Sassaman and David Neal, and the accompanying article, “If we value recycling, all should help to pay for it” by Terri Buckner in the Sunday, March 16, Chapel Hill News.

They all miss a major and compelling point.

The point that seems to elude the county and their commissions is that rural households have been recycling for many years and will continue to do so with or without a special tax district.

You see, the rural households do not have trash pickup, a service that urban households have. The rural households must personally take their trash to the convenience centers to dispose of their trash, and in doing so they take their recyclables. They have always done so, and until some entity comes along to pick up their trash from the roadside , they will continue to do so with or without a special tax district. They believe in recycling and currently pay double that of urban households for the “privilege” of doing so.

It is an affront to suggest that the rural households are not committed to recycling. The issue is not recycling, but rather why should rural communities pay for a service that we already are doing.

The purpose of the comments that follow is to demonstrate that the Solid Waste Taxes, Fees and the Proposed District Tax are Inconsistent and Inequitable.

According to the Orange County Recycling web site the following taxes and fees are noted:

1. The 3R Basic Fee of $47.00 is assessed to all Orange County taxpayers who live on “ improved properties” and “habitable properties.” The 3R Basic Fee is a flat fee based on households.

Properties that do NOT pay the fee are: “ those properties that do not have the capability to generate recyclable wastes (eg. A paved parking lot , that, in and of itself cannot generate recyclables).” This tax appears equitable as it applies to the whole county.

2. The Proposed Recycling District Tax is assessed to some residents of Orange County, not everyone. It is assessed with a property tax rate, not a flat fee, for service. The tax would require higher payments on some properties than it would on other properties for the same service. The citizens of urban areas, on the other hand, pay a flat rate, not a property tax rate for curbside recycling service. This Proposed Recycling District tax is not equitable.

3. The Proposed Recycling District Tax is assessed even on properties that “do not have the capability to generate recyclable wastes” such as parcels of properties that are woodlands with no habitable unit, or parcels of pasture or fields, that have no habitable unit. These parcels also have no roads leading to them. Yet they will be taxed as if they generate recycling waste.

This tax is not equitable.

4. The Convenience Center Fee is a Fee based on “proportional use level.” That means that the urban households which have equal access to the convenience centers pay less because they use the centers less. The rural areas pay more, because they use the centers more (to recycle). The urban households pay $20 and the rural households pay $40. Do the rural residents get a discount for using the library less because it is so much farther away and they use it less? That would be fair, if the logic were to be pursued. This Convenience Center Fee is not equitable.

5. The Convenience Center Fee is a Fee, unfairly applied to be sure, but it is also not a property tax, based on the relative value of a property. The CC Fee should be uniform for all in the county. Which it is not. It is worth noting that even this fee does not charge a fee on parcels that “do not have the capability to generate recyclable wastes.”

In summary, the tax basis of the Solid Waste Department is inconsistent. This new Proposed Tax District is unequal in application to only part of the county. It is inequitable in that it is a property tax and not a fee-based tax. It is inconsistent with other waste taxes in that it taxes non-habitable land parcels that do not have the capability to generate recyclable wastes. The county commissioners should reject this proposed Tax District and revisit the other fees.

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