Chapel Hill: Opinion

March 14, 2014

Commentary: District will keep county recycling leader

A Solid Waste Service Tax District is supported by the Orange County Commission for the Environment.

Orange County stopped collecting fees for curbside recycling in both the towns and the more densely populated unincorporated areas of the county in July 2013, following a state Supreme Court ruling finding similar fees unlawful. These services are now temporarily paid for from other county solid waste funds. This is not sustainable, and Orange County must find another way to continue funding recycling collection services.

While the towns appear on board with implementing fees to keep municipal curbside collection programs running, unincorporated areas present different issues since counties do not have the same legal authority as municipalities to collect fees for service. After much deliberation, the county commissioners are considering two new funding options for unincorporated areas. One is to establish a rural Solid Waste Service Tax District to provide universal curbside recycling. The alternative is opt-out, subscription-based recyclable collection service. A Solid Waste Service Tax District is supported by the Orange County Commission for the Environment.

Why is this service needed? Orange County is nationally recognized for its recycling programs and leads all other North Carolina counties in waste reduction, having reduced per capita landfill disposal by 58 percent. We have accomplished this feat only with close cooperation and program funding among the towns, county, and citizens over the last 20 years. We share a long-standing commitment to reducing the waste load on the environment. The Solid Waste Service Tax District will continue to enhance these countywide programs and maintain that commitment.

Why should funding be through a service district rather than a subscription service? Subscription services are difficult to manage, do not provide predictable and affordable funding, and may end up being more expensive for individual subscribers, especially elderly and those requiring driveway services. If a subscription service fails to achieve sufficient subscriber density, individuals’ fees may increase significantly, possibly leading more individuals to opt out and creating a downward spiral in participation and threatening the program’s viability. The net result would be decreased recycling rates as recycling options become more difficult, ultimately resulting in increased monetary and environmental costs associated with increased landfill disposal. On the other hand, the service tax district option is less disruptive and most closely mirrors the former fee-based structure for recycling.

Who would be included in the service district? Properties in the unincorporated portion of the county, outside town limits and having curbside recycling collection in orange bins now, would be in the service district. Additional “fill-in” areas, approximately 1,600 residences, may be included to increase efficiency of collection. The service district would not include the entire county. In the towns, authorization to assess recycling fees would be provided to the county by your town, and recycling services would be managed by the county.

What will it cost me? The tax rate for this proposed district is anticipated to be about 1.5 cents per $100 assessed value of property, or $37.50 per year for a property valued at $250,000. This tax would replace the $38 per year Rural 3R fee paid in the past by residents in the present rural curbside recycling service area.

What if it is difficult or impossible for me to take my recyclables to the street? The county will continue to provide individualized services for elderly or disabled individuals where it is difficult or impossible for them to deliver their receptacles to a street that can be accessed by the recycling trucks.

We encourage all Orange County residents to become informed about the specifics of proposed recycling options by reviewing materials on the County Website and to participate in public hearings scheduled by the Orange County Board of Commissioners (March 18 and April1) or call or email the county commissioners.

Jan Sassaman is chair of the Orange County Commission for the Environment and former chair of the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board. David Neal is the past chair of the Orange County Commission for the Environment.

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