The County Commissioners want to hear from residents about trash and recycling, and are hosting a public hearing on Tuesday, April 23, at 7:00 PM, at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road (behind the Senior Center). The hearing was initially set to discuss waste and recycling franchises, which the commissioners have decided to no longer pursue.
The county is still grappling with the question of how to fund the curbside recycling program - or whether to continue it at all. The county's curbside collection fee has been legally challenged by the NC Supreme Court.
Towns, as well as neighborhoods just outside the towns, want to continue curbside recycling and fund it with a new tax, without regard to scope or amount. Rural residents have yet to be heard - and without our input, the county could expand curbside recycling and/or levy a new countywide tax.
Orange County Voice has asked for a careful look at the service model and costs associated with it. Our survey of 881 rural families, supported by county statistics, suggests that most rural residents prefer convenience centers over curbside services. A handful of small companies provide collection services to rural families.
Complicating matters further are increasing county costs due to convenience center upgrades and the closing of the landfill. Without transparency about costs and options, a district tax could be used to burden rural residents with a selective tax increase.
In the short term, OCV prefers that the county not pursue a tax, but, instead, simply allow residents to opt out of curbside recycling (and its fee) if they prefer to use convenience centers. In the longer term, more transparency is needed regarding changing costs and options for services and funding.
Tuesday's hearing is your chance to speak about this important topic. If you can't attend the hearing on Tuesday, please send your comments via email to the commissioners.
The topics at hand are explained more fully below:
Rural Curbside Recycling
Today, the county provides bi-weekly curbside recycling collection to 13,700 of 21,000 rural households, for a flat fee of $38 a year. Less than half of rural households use the service. Most rural residents prefer to use convenience centers.
Based on a recent NC Supreme Court decision, the county can no longer force residents to pay a curbside collection fee. A voluntary service allowing households to opt out of the fee is legal, but the county prefers a new district tax to replace the fee, where everyone in the district pays the tax whether they use the service or not. Similar to fire taxes, the district tax is tied to property values ("ad valorum") and levied on every home, farm, business and unimproved property.
The current $38 curbside recycling fee is in addition to the base 3R fee ($37) and convenience center fee ($20). The base 3R fee and the convenience center fees are legal. To fund convenience centers, the county supplements fees with about $2 million collected from property taxes. With convenience center upgrades, these costs are projected to increase. If levied, a new tax could replace the all current fees and taxes.
The county has not provided information about the size or scope of a possible district tax. Legally, there are no limits on the tax rate. The tax can be levied countywide or just in selected areas. It only applies to the unincorporated parts of the county, unless the commissioners secure permission from town leaders to levy the tax on town citizens.
Curbside recycling for multi-family housing, including trailer parks, is also under review. The county cannot force landlords to pay $19 per unit for curbside recycling. (This is in addition to per unit fees of $37 base 3R, plus $2 for convenience centers). If included in a tax district, landlords would pay the new tax based on the value of their property.
Small Rural Haulers
In addition to curbside recycling, small local companies, such as Efland Trash Service, are seeking permission to use convenience centers after the landfill closes. A dozen such companies (for a list, click here) provide trash and recycling collection services to 500-1,000 rural families and businesses. They use a uniquely rural service model, using small trucks and trailers to access homes with long private roads and gravel driveways. Their services are especially valuable to disabled residents and rural seniors.
Service costs will double if these companies have to use the Durham transfer station. Unlike Orange County, Durham does not distinguish small trucks from large garbage haulers. These small companies are willing to pay a permitting fee and agree to conditions of use. They suggest starting with a pilot program, to assure that their small trucks and trailers will not interfere with convenience center safety or operations.
Orange County Voice strongly supports a pilot program to demonstrate that these small companies can safely and effectively use the convenience centers and continue to provide meaningful service to rural families.
How You Can Help
Please let the commissioners know how you feel about trash and recycling services in rural Orange County. Let them know if your community wants curbside services, and how you want to pay for them. If you prefer convenience centers and don't want to pay for curbside recycling, let them know that too. While you're at it, offer ideas on how to improve service (e.g., expand convenience center hours or add locations, or make curbside recycling a weekly program).
Above all, ask for transparency about services, costs and tax rates, before any new taxes are considered. Also, please show your support for allowing small, local haulers to use the convenience centers.
Your input is essential to help the commissioners develop an equitable tax or fee structure. If you can, please attend the public hearing. Alternatively, send an email to the commissioners.
This is a unique opportunity for rural Orange County to influence county services and taxes. Please make the rural voice count.
Thank you for your support for Orange County Voice and the rural community.