Chapel Hill News

Orange County considers higher recycling fee to pay waste expenses

An Orange County recycling employee empties a long row of blue rollcarts along Lindsay Street in Chapel Hill in this 2014 photo. The county is looking at ways to meet continuing shortfalls in its solid waste budget. A consultant says the falling market for recyclable materials is largely to blame for a decline in revenues.
An Orange County recycling employee empties a long row of blue rollcarts along Lindsay Street in Chapel Hill in this 2014 photo. The county is looking at ways to meet continuing shortfalls in its solid waste budget. A consultant says the falling market for recyclable materials is largely to blame for a decline in revenues. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The cost of recycling could be going up this year for Orange County residents, and more fee increases could follow.

The county now charges property owners $107 per year for curbside and convenience center recycling. Owners of apartment complexes and mobile home parks pay a fee for each unit.

The fee generates about $6.5 million for the $12 million county solid waste budget. The program also relied this year on $2 million from the county’s operating budget and roughly $1.8 million from the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund reserves.

A recent SCS Engineers study found the reserves – now about $6.6 million – will run out in 2020-21. Raising the fee to $148 a year would ensure a balanced solid waste budget, consultant Bob Dick said.

The problem isn’t caused by any notable inefficiencies in the Solid Waste Department, he noted. Instead, expenses are outpacing revenues, because the recyclables market has been declining since 2010-11.

At the same time, Orange County is recycling more goods. Nearly 15,000 tons was recycled in 2010-11, earning the county nearly $900,000, reports show. Last year, nearly 15,500 tons were recycled but revenues were roughly $200,000.

“The recycling industry frankly just tanked and affected everybody, Orange County included,” Dick said.

There are some positive signs this year, solid waste director Gayle Wilson said.

“We are no longer having to pay to have those materials received” at the Raleigh collection center, he said. “It changes from day to day, but we’re making a little bit of money on it, whereas this time last year, we were paying.”

Dick noted that Orange County “has probably the premier solid waste program in the state,” with a progressive level of services, commitment to landfill diversion and recycling.

“You don’t need me to point out that that level of service and convenience comes with a cost,” he said.

The commissioners, after hearing the report, asked staff to consider other options that could ease the effect of a fee increase on property owners.

Commissioner Earl McKee suggested increasing the solid waste allocation in the county’s operating budget to $5 million, while Commissioner Barry Jacobs noted that $600,000 previously paid on the Greene tract could be redirected next year.

The multi-agency Solid Waste Advisory Group will talk with the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough town managers about their preferences, County Manager Bonnie Hammersley said. The group is close to signing off on a new interlocal agreement, she said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Eubanks Road center to close

The Eubanks Road Waste and Recycling Center will close at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 for a an estimated 10-month modernization project. A temporary Waste Management Center on Millhouse Road. less than a mile north of the center, will be ready to receive materials at 7 a.m. Thursday, March 2. The temporary center will be staffed, will operate the same hours as the Eubanks Road Center, but will have only limited services for the disposal of household garbage, bulky items, scrap metal, yard waste and electronics.

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