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Orange County Commissioner Candidates Talk Trash And Taxes

CARRBORO- It’s been five years since Orange County residents have seen a property tax increase, but the question of when the rate might rise was on the minds of voters at last week’s county commissioner candidate forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.

Barry Jacobs is seeking his fifth term on the board representing the county at-large. He told the audience that despite recent efforts to trim the budget, future tax increases might be necessary to fund what he called Orange County values.

“Schools are expensive,” said Jacobs. “People in Orange County want quality public education, we raise taxes to pay for the schools. We don’t apologize for it. Not everybody likes it.”

Challenger Bonnie Hauser said she’d try to avoid a tax increase by re-prioritizing county spending.

“In the short term I’d work to re-prioritize our spending to meet the needs of our schools and avoid raising taxes,” said Hauser. “To me, that means funding schools first and cut or delay funding to government facilities and non-essentials to free up capital and revenue.”

Incumbent Earl McKee faces Mark Marcoplos for the District 2 seat representing Hillsborough and rural Orange County. McKee said he hopes to hold the line on property taxes for at least one more year.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you all that we’re not going to raise taxes this year, or that we will never raise taxes again. Everybody knows I will be telling a bald-faced lie if I do that,” said McKee. “But I will work to try to find areas where we can do reductions, areas where we can wring a few more dollars out of different funds.”

Marcoplos said recent boards have been judicious in their budget decisions, a trend he’d continue if elected.

“I can’t think of anybody who has wildly raised taxes or wildly slashed taxes,” said Marcoplos. “It’s a process that has been done reasonably in the confines of the realities of the day, and I would be in that tradition.”

The future of recycling and solid waste disposal was also a hot topic, as the county is currently trying to find a new funding model for curbside recycling pick-up, while also searching for a long-term solution for solid waste disposal now that the landfill has closed. Marcoplos said he’d make solid waste a top priority.

“One of my key goals as a commissioner will be to work towards that comprehensive end-game,” said Marcoplos. “We need a [waste] transfer station in Orange County and we need a recycling station right next to it which will simplify the picking up of trash and recycling.”

McKee agreed, saying his thinking on the issue has evolved during his time on the board.

“I’m going to be quite honest with you, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” said McKee. “I don’t know what the best way is, but I’m coming to the conclusion that we need to step back and look at this in a holistic way. We need to put it in a task force, to hire a consultant, which is something I opposed in 2010.”

Hauser said she’d like to see greater cooperation between the towns and county to reduce waste at schools and other institutional facilities, with an eye to regional solutions in the future.

“I’m disappointed that two years after deciding to close the landfill we still don’t have a plan for solid waste and recycling,” said Hauser. “In the short term, I’d like to focus on an interim plan to reduce waste that includes an inter-local agreement with the towns.”

Jacobs said the county is on the verge of signing a five-year contract with Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill to collaborate on recycling services, but that going forward, locating a site for new solid waste facilities will be a challenge.

“One of our problems has been, especially recently, the towns have not wanted to work with us; they weren’t sure they wanted to have an agreement,” said Jacobs. “We’re about to sign a five-year agreement with the towns and the basis of doing planning going forward is, how do we do, in a cost-effective and socially just way, solid waste in Orange County?”

All four candidates are Democrats and there are no Republican challengers, meaning the race will be decided in the May 6 Primary.  The candidates will meet again to discuss the issues at a forum hosted by the Orange/Chatham Sierra Club at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday at Carrboro Town Hall.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/orange-county-commissioner-candidates-talk-trash-taxes/

County Commissioners Look to Towns For Future of Recycling Program

CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners are seeking a commitment from town leaders before they decide how to continue the popular countywide curbside recycling program.

“Reaching out to out other governmental partners is critical,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin, speaking at Tuesday’s public hearing on the future of solid waste and recycling services. “These options only work, or only work efficiently if there is broad-based participation, so that seems to be a critical first step.”

Orange County’s recycling program leads the state in waste reduction, but the county is looking for a new funding model now that a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling prohibits some of the fees that fund curbside pick-up service.

While commissioners have yet to settle on a permanent solution, they have narrowed the options from four to two. Earlier this month board members voted to take franchise agreements off the table and on Tuesday they rejected the idea of ending curbside pick-up and building more solid waste convenience centers instead.

“[That] option seems to me to be something that would not be very palatable to many of our citizens,” said Commissioner Earl McKee. “The folks that are currently enjoying rural curbside made statements that they’d like to continue that.”

A pair of options is still up for consideration. Commissioners are looking to either establish a solid waste service district tax similar to the current fire districts, or create a solid waste authority in the model of OWASA.

Of the nearly thirty public speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing, the majority favored the district tax option, which would replace the current fee system to fund the curbside pick-up program. Wendy Smith urged commissioners to keep the program intact.

“This is the stellar program of our state,” said Smith. “We are the envy of so many counties out there and it would be a shame to lose any of the cohesive services that we now give.”

But some worried the district tax plan would unfairly burden those rural residents who don’t use the curbside service. Bingham resident Marilee McTigue said she doesn’t have easy access to the service, even though she’s charged for it.

“Based on the county’s numbers I think about 5,000 families that pay for curbside recycling today don’t use the service,” said McTigue. “In many situations they’re like me, too far away from the collection point to make it efficient and effective for us.”

Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier countered that Orange County residents should look at it as a public good, not just a personal service.

“I think we have to stop thinking about it as ‘my particular service for me,’” said Pelissier. “We have to look at what is it we’re trying to accomplish, the overall service for the county.”

Most on the board also favored the district tax concept, which could be configured to include the towns if they opt to participate. Creation of a solid waste authority would require the participation of one or more municipality, and county staffers say hammering out those details could take time.

The board unanimously voted to maintain the current recycling program for another year, with an eye towards setting up an alternate funding plan by July 2014.

County officials will meet with town managers and elected leaders to suss out their level of interest and report back by the board by the end of June.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/county-commissioners-look-to-towns-for-future-of-recycling-program/

Orange County Solid Waste To Host Compost Events

CHAPEL HILL- The Orange County Solid Waste Department is holding a number of different events and classes coming up all related to composting.

The first opportunity is a worm bin make-and-take workshop at the Scrap Exchange Centerin Durham on Thursday night from 6:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. A worm bin is a small 12-15 gallon container that allows people to easily and efficiently compost indoors.

Education and Outreach Coordinator of Orange County Solid Waste Muriel Williman will lead the event and talks about it entails.

“You can learn how to harvest the compost so you can use it in your house plants or in your gardens, wherever you’d like,” says Williman. “It is like rocket science for plant growth providing rich, rich, rich, fertilizer. I’ll show people how to feed the worms their kitchen scraps and how to maintain it over time.”

The worm bin event costs $35.00. Public school teachers get $10 off. To register for the event please call 919-213-1278, email eventa@scrapexchange.org or visithttp://scrapclass2013-016.eventbrite.com/# online.

Composting expert Williman also teaches free composting classes which teach the fundamentals of indoor and outdoor composting. Sessions will take place on Wednesday March 27 from 3:00p.m. until 4:15 p.m. at the Carolina Campus Community Garden on Wilson St. in Chapel Hill, and on Saturday April 6 from 10:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the Community center Learning Garden on Estes Drive. The classes require no registration and children, if accompanied by an adult, are welcome.

Williman’s classes are a benificial way to learn how to help progress the continuous composting process.

“Composting is a natural process and you can’t stop it,” says Williman. “It’s going to happen. You want to do it in a controlled way so that you can maximize the nutrients that you’re getting out of your organic scraps and reducing the amount of nutrients that leach away in the system. To keep critters out of it, you do want to use an enclosed container.”

Orange County is selling backyard compost bins and kitchen counter food waste collectors at the Solid Waste Management administrative office at 1207 Eubanks Rd. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The compost bins cost $50.00 a piece and kitchen collector buckets are $10.00. Payment is cash or check only.

http://chapelboro.com/news/orange-county-solid-waste-to-host-compost-events/