Chapel Hill News

Commissioners delay rural recycling funding decision

The Orange County Board of Commissioners put off for another year Tuesday a change in how the county handles rural curbside recycling service.

Chairman Barry Jacobs said the many public comments the board received influenced its deliberations.

“We know that recycling does not pay for itself. It has to be subsidized in one form or another … but we are all committed to making it work to the best of our abilities,” he said. “I don’t think either option before us is viable at this point, and I think there are better first steps to take.”

Rural residents who are eligible now for curbside pickup will continue to have the service next year, but the commissioners will have to decide where to get the money to pay for it by July 1.

One option is paying out of the general fund.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin suggest dipping into the $18.1 million landfill reserve fund.

A 2012 state court ruling that cast doubt on the county’s ability to collect one of three recycling fees is driving the changes. The county still collects two other fees: a flat, countywide recycling fee and a convenience center fee based on the type and location of a home.

The commissioners were expected to decide Tuesday whether to establish a solid waste tax service district to replace the lost fee. Other options included a flat-fee subscription program with an opt-out clause and ending the curbside collection program in unincorporated areas of the county.

The proposed tax service district would have levied a 1.5-cent tax rate on every $100 in property value. The owner of property valued at $200,000 would pay a $30 annual fee.

Most residents who spoke at the commissioners’ meetings, including two public hearings in the last month, opposed the tax service district. They advocated instead for an opt-out service, a flat fee or relying on the county’s convenience centers.

Despite the encouraging feedback, Dorosin said he was disheartened by the significant opposition to using a property tax to pay for recycling.

“It’s the most fair way of taxing that any local government has, and when you are charging flat fees, that hurts lower-wealth people,” he said.

Roughly 13,700 rural households are eligible and pay for curbside recycling, although officials say just over half regularly use it. The service district could have expanded curbside recycling to more than a thousand new households.

Commissioners Bernadette Pelissier and Penny Rich said they also got emails and letters from residents who supported the tax service district. Commissioner Renee Price said she thought most of those appeared to be from residents who live closer to the towns.

Rich suggested making the emails available for everyone to read.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee said he must be on a different email list.

The county continues to kick the can down the road on solid waste, when it should assign a work group to sort through all the options for long-term solutions, he said.

“We need a holistic approach to this, because we are at a point now where we are not only hauling our trash to another community, we are paying for the privilege of doing that,” McKee said.

The commissioners will meet with town leaders May 13 to talk about a new solid waste interlocal agreement and other options.

The county also is negotiating contracts to provide Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill residents with recycling next year. The towns handle their own trash, and most rural residents use the county’s convenience centers.