Chapel Hill leaders are bucking a proposed flat fee for recycling services, saying they want to make sure their constituents pay only their fair share.
Carrboro and Orange County leaders backed the flat fee this week over different fees for urban and rural residents. Hillsborough town leaders haven’t talked about their preferences, a spokeswoman said. They will join elected officials from the county, Carrboro and Chapel Hill to discuss the options Thursday, March 26, at an Assembly of Governments meeting.
Orange County Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson presented two options this week: a $103 flat fee charged countywide or a two-part fee that charges $94 a year to urban owners of developed property and apartment dwellers, and $118 a year to rural property owners and residents.
Both would help expand rural curbside recycling to the rest of the county over the next three years, increasing the annual cost but potentially improving the county’s recycling rate, Wilson said. Both also offer more flexibility by coordinating pickups of residential and similar-sized business recycling in the same collection run, instead of picking up only residential or only business recycling.
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The fees could also pay 35 percent to 40 percent of the cost to operate five county convenience centers, he said.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners formed an advisory group in June to talk about the county’s solid waste programs and how to pay for them, and to develop a new agreement among local governments. The group – two leaders from each town and the county, plus one each from the university and UNC Health Care – started meeting in August to develop the options.
The governments need an agreement by the end of April to have funding in place by July 1, Wilson said. If they don’t reach an agreement, the county would have to find other funding, or each government could be left to find its own solutions.
The fees could raise $6.2 million for the recycling program, with the county using roughly $1.8 million from its operating fund to cover the rest.
Orange County dropped two of three fees that previously paid for recycling after a 2012 Cabarrus County case raised questions about the authority to collect those fees.
The county still collects a basic, $47 fee and levies a separate convenience center fee based on where a property owner lives and the type of home. Solid waste reserve funds are being used this year to pay for curbside and multifamily recycling collection.
Attorneys agree state law will allow either of the proposed options, Wilson said. The fee would be collected with county property taxes and would not apply to undeveloped or UNC properties.
Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said the two-part fee “doesn’t reflect our values as a county.”
“To ask (rural residents) to pay more so that they can get the service that the rest of us already have doesn’t seem to be fair,” she said. “A great deal of our rural areas are prevented from being denser than they are. I’m not buying that the urban-rural split (in fees) makes sense.”
Chapel Hill’s delegates had a different opinion.
The town’s taxpayers paid roughly half of the $1.8 million in operating funds, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said, and shouldn’t have to pay more to subsidize the expansion of rural recycling. The two-part fee is still a compromise between equal cost and access to recycling services, he said.
Orange County has counted on Chapel Hill to pay more for collaborative ventures for decades, Councilman Jim Ward said.
“To me, there’s a significant difference in the cost of the services that are directed to rural residents and municipal ones, and in good conscience, I’m not comfortable asking the folks that I represent to pay more than what has been identified as the actual cost of that service,” he said.
A recent UNC survey found only 11 percent of those who use the convenience centers live in a town, Ward said. The county’s 2007-08 survey, which put that number at 33 percent, was used to determine how much urban and rural residents would pay under the two-part fee.
The fees also raised concerns about the effect on low-income residents. Carrboro Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said she’s also concerned that landlords might try to profit from collecting recycling fees from tenants.
The county has been billing for recycling services for several years, Wilson said, and hasn’t received any complaints about price gouging. Low-income residents also can take advantage of a county subsidy that helps pay their recycling bill, he said. Roughly 700 use it now, he said.
Correspondent Jean Bolduc contributed to this story.
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Southern Human Services Center, 2500 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, to talk about their options for rural recycling.
The meeting will be followed by the regularly scheduled joint meeting between Chapel Hill and the county.