At a public hearing earlier this month, many Johnston residents said they were OK with levying a $5 recycling fee on every county household and business.
County Commissioners, who need to erase the red ink in Johnston’s solid-waste operations, said they needed more information before taking action.
In addition to levying the recycling fee, commissioners are thinking about requiring rural households to pay $50 annually to use the county’s solid-waste convenience centers. Those households now pay $65 annually for a decal that gives them access to the convenience sites, where they can carry trash and recyclables.
Because of higher recycling costs and a slow economy in which households throw away less, the county’s 13 convenience sites are operating at a financial loss. The $65 decal simply isn’t enough to cover expenses.
The county has kept the sites afloat partly with revenue from its profitable landfill operation, where towns and private haulers pay tipping fees. Also, the county has diverted $8 million from a state-mandated fund that’s supposed to be at $17.5 million and must be in place when the landfill closes 90 years from now.
To end the operating losses, the county needs to increase solid waste revenue by $500,000 annually, said Rick Proctor, director of the county’s solid waste services department.
At the public hearing on Sept. 2, Commissioner Allen Mims noted that the proposed fees would help solid-waste operations break even, not turn a profit.
The public hearing drew residents of Clayton, Selma, Smithfield and Wilson’s Mills, many of whom said the proposed fees struck them as fair. Some did want to know which properties would pay the fees, and commissioners assured them that only properties with houses and businesses – not vacant lands – would have to pay.
Clayton resident Kenneth Taylor said he liked the notion of asking all households to share in the county’s solid-waste costs. Perhaps that would encourage households to dispose of their trash properly instead of tossing it long Johnston’s roadsides.
“It’s a fairness issue for those who illegally dispose of trash,” he said, expressing his frustration with such dumping.
Clayton resident Thea Morrow said commissioners could expect some push-back from households on fixed incomes, but she too supported the fees.
Commissioners were noncommittal.
Commissioner Ted Godwin said he wanted to make sure all Johnston residents paid their fair share. “The program won’t work unless it’s spread over entire base of population,” he said. “It needs to have a certain amount of integrity so it will work.”
“We just want to clean up the county,” Godwin added.
Mims said he too wanted a policy that was fair. “I’m still trying to find a fair way to do this,” he said. “We haven’t seen it yet.”
Commissioner Tony Braswell agreed. “We have been talking seriously about this for eight years,” he said. “The hardest thing is to determine what is fair and what is right.”
Commissioner Chad Stewart said he wasn’t surprised that speakers at the hearing supported the recycling fee. “Overwhelmingly what I have heard tonight is what my constituents have said as well,” he said. The fee “is what the people want and what they asked for.”
Commissioners took no action after the hearing. They asked County Manager Rick Hester to come back in the fall with more financial data.
“I think it’s going to be a win-win one way or the other,” said Stewart.