HILLSBOROUGH – A public hearing on a proposed tax district for recycling pickup in Orange County brought a lot of people out to the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.
Here were just a few of the comments from behind the guest podium:
“I loved Hillsborough in the past, but now I want to take my business and home elsewhere just because we are overtaxed, and I don’t get the benefits.”
“If it is a new tax, shouldn’t we be allowed to vote on it?”
“I find the argument that us rural folk are lazy and won’t recycle without this scheme disingenuous.”
“It’s not a matter so much of the cost. It’s a matter of principle.”
“Never mess with something that’s working. These convenience centers are working. Leave them alone.”
The proposed service district would replace an annual 3-R fee of $38 that was added to property tax bills from 2004 until 2012. That was when the county discontinued the fee over concern about its legality.
The tax district idea has sparked anger among some vocal residents of rural areas.
They contend that they can take care of recycling themselves, by carting it off to convenience centers, as they’ve been doing for a long time.
Some speakers said they don’t want to push big recycling bins down long, winding gravel driveways. Some insisted they don’t want to pay for a service they’re not going to use. And some said they’re already being taxed too much in Orange County.
There were also a few comments in favor of the service district:
“I just want to speak to this idea that people can selectively choose the taxes they want to pay or that they think benefit them. If that was the case in this country, we would not have a functioning society.”
That’s Tom Linden, a resident of the dense suburban Stoneridge neighborhood of unincorporated Orange County. He says that 300 households in his area “need and want” curbside recycling.
Terri Buckner lives on Yorktown Drive in Chapel Hill, in the southern part of the county. She said her neighborhood gets “forgotten a lot” in this discussion.
“We don’t have access to the convenience centers that you all here in the north have,” she said. “So, for me, hauling my recycling to the convenience center is really quite an inconvenience, even though I am paying for your convenience centers.”
Such arguments did not sway rural residents such as Steve Hopper of Efland.
“Those with curbside recycling access – 57 percent are using it,” he said. “In the rural areas without curbside recycling – 50 percent are doing it. That’s a seven percent difference. You’re going to spend how much money for seven percent?”
Commissioners must come up with a one-size-fits-all solution, because State law mandates that a service district must be contiguous. Targeting curbside pickup to those that want it most is not an option.
Mark Marcoplos, who’s running this year against Commissioner Earl McKee for the District 2 seat, spoke at the hearing. He faulted Commissioners for not opting to simply keep the 3-R fee in place.
“This worked very well, until the county lawyer offered his opinion that, based on a case involving Cabarrus County, the county might face a legal challenge on the fee,” said Marcoplos.
He was referring to a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court in August 2012, which struck down school facility fees in Cabarrus County. Orange County took that as a precedent that invalidated county government fees if they were not approved by the General Assembly.
Bonnie Hauser, who’s running against Chairman Barry Jacobs for his at-large seat, also spoke at the hearing. She said that while she is not a resident of the proposed tax district, she cares about the issue.
“There is no option that I can see that takes me down a path of a service district tax as a fair or equitable solution for the county,” she said.
It was the second of two public hearings about the recycling district. Commissioners could make a decision at the April 15 meeting, to be held at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, starting at 7 p.m.