CHAPEL HILL- A recent court ruling means Orange County will have to find a new way to fund curbside recycling pick-up for rural residents, but commissioners say they aren’t sure what is the most equitable way to pay for the program.
At their last meeting of 2013, Orange County Commissioners debated whether to create a new service tax district to pay for rural recycling pick-up or give residents the option to sign up for the service.
Some on the board, including Penny Rich, worried that switching to a subscription service could lead as many as 20 percent of participants to opt out.
“The subscription service just doesn’t sit right with me,” said Rich. “If we’re a county that is encouraging recycling and we have a program, it should be a program that everyone should use.”
Currently the county provides curbside recycling pick-up to 13,700 rural homes, but county leaders want to expand the service in the future. Pick-up is estimated to cost $630,000 annually and officials say they’ll need an additional $1.3 million to buy 96-gallon roll-out carts and two new trucks this year.
The proposed subscription service would cost homeowners approximately $58 yearly, while a service district tax could add as much as 1.5 cents per $100 of valuation to property tax bills.
Under the subscription model, only those using the service would pay the fee, but if commissioners approve a county-wide service district, all property owners in the unincorporated areas would be charged, including those who own undeveloped land or live outside the bounds of the pick-up routes.
Though she said it’s not a perfect solution, Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier favored the service district plan. She said because increased recycling is a community goal, it is appropriate to fund the program using tax dollars.
“If you think about our taxes in general, we pay for the whole array of services and we don’t necessarily use them all,” said Pelissier. “We have made a commitment to recycling in this community and I want to maintain that commitment.”
But Commissioner Mark Dorosin said he’s concerned about the impact a new tax might have on rural residents.
“I think the argument about the value of recycling as a value of the county is counterbalanced by trying to maintain affordability in the county,” said Dorosin. “We’re talking about a 1.5 cent tax on rural areas of the county. That’s troubling.”
Board Chair Barry Jacobs said that if the county adopts the service district plan, officials would need to act quickly to expand the program.
“I see no equity in charging people for something, then having a minimalist or gradual approach to expanding the services,” said Jacobs. “For all these discussions about tax equity, if I’m paying for it, I should get it.”
Commissioner Earl McKee was not convinced. He argued that Orange County residents have prioritized recycling in the past and they aren’t likely to give that up.
“I’m still more comfortable with trusting our citizens to do what they are already doing,” said McKee. “I’m much more comfortable with providing an option that will allow folks to do it for a fee rather than do it under what I view as a system of coercion.”
The board voted 6-1 to get detailed information and hold a series of public hearings about the service district plan. McKee opposed, saying while he’s a strong supporter of recycling, he couldn’t support a plan that doesn’t offer residents the option of opting out.
The board will discuss the issue again on January 23, and public hearings on the service district tax plan will be held in the spring. If approved, the service district would be put in place by July 1.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-eyes-rural-recycling-district-tax-plan/
ORANGE COUNTY – County Commissioners will consider design options for the Cedar Grove Community Center and hear an update on a plan to launch an Orange County Fair when the board meets Tuesday.
The Cedar Grove Community Center project is estimated to cost approximately $2 million dollars and would renovate portions of a former school site to provide space for community meetings, recreation and internet access.
The board will also discuss a plan to host a weekend fair in the spring of 2015 showcasing Orange County art, agriculture, history and music.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Link Government Services Center in Hillsborough.
ORANGE COUNTY – County commissioners will discuss a possible $100 million dollar bond package when the board meets Tuesday.
County leaders are looking to build a new jail and a new middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. They’re also considering how to address the need for renovations in the area’s oldest schools.
To finance these projects, commissioners are considering putting a bond package totalling $100 million dollars up for a vote in November 2014.
The board will also discuss a plan to create a solid waste tax service district that would include Hillsborough, Carrboro and possibly Chapel Hill. Money for the current county-wide recycling pick-up service will run out next year, as a recent state Supreme Court ruling found counties have no authority to levy the fees that funded the program. County officials are exploring the tax district concept as an alternative.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Link Government Services Center in Hillsborough.
ORANGE COUNTY – County Commissioners will sign off on a new budget and five year capital investment plan when the board meets Tuesday.
After weeks of negotiation and public hearings that drew dozens of residents to plead for more school funding, commissioners will finalize a spending plan that maintains the current property tax rate while digging into reserve funds to give more money to schools.
The budget also calls for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax rate to increase by two cents to provide $ 2 million dollars to open the new Northside Elementary.
The plan includes money for new EMS personnel and technology upgrades, and sets aside a quarter of a million dollars for the Social Justice Fund, designed to lessen the impact of state cuts to social programs.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.
ORANGE COUNTY – County Manager Frank Clifton will present next year’s budget proposal when the Board of Commissioners meets Tuesday.
The spending plan does not call for a property tax increase, nor an increase to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district tax, despite a request from the school board to raise the rate.
County commissioners could decide to raise the district tax by as much as 5 and a half cent to fully fund the school system’s budget request.
Household sanitation fees could double to $20 for urban residents and $40 for rural residents. Clifton says the increase would go to fund improvements and additional operating hours at the solid waste convenience centers.
Ten of the county’s 12 fire districts are asking the board to raise fire district tax rates. If approved, the Chapel Hill rate would double from 7 and a half cents to 15 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value, the highest in the county.
The budget includes money to hire new EMS personnel, IT specialists and librarians, as well as nearly $500,000 for the Chapel Hill Public Library.
In addition to reviewing the budget, the board will also get an update on the Orange County Bus and Rail plan implementation and take a first look at a plan to host a county fair.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Southern Human Service Center on Homestead Road.
ORANGE COUNTY – It’s no joke, the half-cent transit tax approved in November went into effect Monday at midnight.
The County has plans for services totaling $661.1 million. Those plans include $131.1 million in new and enhanced bus service, express bus lane improvements on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd ($24.5 million), an Amtrak rail station in Hillsborough ($8.9 million), and a light rail system together with Durham County totaling $496.6 million.
To see a complete breakdown of the plans and some frequently asked questions, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/transit-tax-in-effect-in-orange-county/
In response to a letter by Snow to the Council asking why the Bicycle Apartments were not delayed further in a vote last week, Pease replied with a letter stating her personal opinions too often make way into the Town’s planning decisions.
“I don’t have an issue with any advisory board or commission member disagreeing or not agreeing to any kind of development agreement,” Pease says. “I don’t have any issue with a citizen suing somebody or the Town over a disagreement. I think those are all our rights.”
In late October, residents of Chapel Hill sued the Town over the Charterwood project—which abuts Snow’s property—after the Council approved the development in September. The lawsuit stated that the Superior Court of Orange County should review the Town’s decision and that the development would be an inconvenience to its neighbors.
Pease says as a member of the Planning Board, and especially the chair of the Board, it’s hard for him to see how she can be a part of that lawsuit.
“I’m not comfortable with not speaking up on it,” Pease says. “I think there’s an ethical line that’s been crossed. The essence of my email back to her (Monday) was to ask her to resign her position on the Planning Board.”
He says he feels it’s important to understand how far is too far.
“I don’t have an issue with any other Planning Board member unless they’re a participant in a lawsuit on a development issue against the Town,” Pease says.
Snow’s letter regarding the Bicycle Apartments stated that the Council brought up “legitimate concerns” about the project that should have been answered with “fact-based data” but instead were overlooked and the development was approved.
However, Pease stated multiple times in his response that “fact-based data” has often been a request from Snow. He says that term is often misused “by amateurs trying to sway an argument that is primarily based on their personal bias.” He added that “in our town the term has been greatly overused.”
“They use a word about not being against development, but being for smart development,” Pease says. “When I talked to them about being able to define that, I can’t get a clear definition of what they mean.”
He says these requests often don’t leave any options to further Town development.
“They don’t want our taxes raised,” Pease says. “They don’t want our services cut. But yet there’s a group in town that consistently rallies citizens and close neighborhoods to speak out against development. I can’t figure out how to have the balance in town we need.”
In late December, former council member and current Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich wrote a letter to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt stating Snow should hand in her resignation.
Click here to read the full story.
Snow had appeared before the Board of Commissioners earlier in the month to voice her objections to the County bus and rail plan. In doing so, she identified herself as the Planning Board chair and cited the Board’s opinions on long-range transportation planning.
Rich argued this amounted to an over-reach of power, but Mayor Kleinschmidt appeared at the next Planning Board meeting to clear the air of the conversations he said were occurring through local media instead of face to face.
Mayor Kleinschmidt stated it was perfectly fine to have an opinion, and fine to credential oneself when the time is appropriate. However, he made it clear that the Planning Board is an advisory board and that the final say goes to the Council.
Click here to read the full story.
Pease says he’s had this concern for some time, but it wasn’t his place to speak up during the conversation over Snow’s visit to Orange County. He says since he wasn’t at the meeting, he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of what took place.
“I waited and this thing was festering with me,” Pease says. “The email she sent last week just kind of was the tipping point I guess. I felt I needed to speak up.”
Regardless of the Mayor’s comments and what role Snow says she is able to play on the Planning Board, Pease says he doesn’t see her performing that role properly anymore.
“I’m not at all complaining or it bothers me that we got sued,” Pease says. “That’s the right of somebody to do that. But to be part of the development process, I don’t know how somebody that’s suing us could be unbiased in future recommendations to the council and that’s where I think an ethical line’s been drawn.”
Snow was not available for comment on the matter Monday evening.
Click here to read Del Snow’s letter to the Town Council.
Click here to read Gene Pease’s response to Snow.http://chapelboro.com/news/second-public-official-says-ch-planning-board-chair-should-resign/