Recycling Issue Brings Rural Residents Out for Orange Commissioners Hearing

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.

Biking! Drinking! Recycling! Driving! Housing! Reporting! Dancing!

The newest restaurant in Chapel Hill’s 140 West is celebrating its grand opening on Thursday, March 20.

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom will mark its grand opening on March 20 with a ribbon cutting at 11:00 a.m.

Old Chicago got its start back in 1976 – and to honor that, the company will offer free pizza for a year for the first 76 customers in line. There will also be a free throw shooting contest outside on the 140 West plaza – and Old Chicago will donate $76 to Farmer Foodshare for each free throw that gets made. (Show the Tar Heels how it’s done!)

Listen to Aaron Keck’s conversation on the Wednesday afternoon news with Old Chicago’s Chris Beckler.

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For the next two months, the Town of Chapel Hill is inviting you to give your feedback on the latest draft of its Bike Plan.

You can find the plan and a comment form online at

There will be a public forum to discuss the plan on Monday, April 28.


Chatham County officials say drinking water in some parts of the county might have a musty taste and odor for the next month or so – but it’s still safe to drink.

Chatham Water Utilities found higher-than-usual levels of compounds in water recently sampled from Jordan Lake Reservoir, causing the slight difference in taste. Director Leonard McBryde says this is a seasonal issue that’s “not uncommon for water systems that draw raw water from lakes.”

Since it’s seasonal, county officials say it should only last about a month – but in the meantime, residents can minimize the taste difference by refrigerating water in a pitcher, or using a carbon filter.


Orange County will be holding a second public hearing in April to discuss the proposed new solid waste service tax district for unincorporated areas of the county.

The district is being proposed as a way to continue funding the county’s recycling program. The program had been funded with an annual fee attached to residents’ property tax bill, but that fee has been discontinued.

The public hearing takes place on Tuesday, April 1, also at 6:00 p.m. at the Social Services Center at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street in Hillsborough.


Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s three high schools are holding “mock crash” events this spring to raise awareness of the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

The events will begin with an assembly, followed by a crash reenactment in the footbal stadium. A UNC Air Care helicopter will land in the stadium as well, to simulate transport of an injured victim.

The mock crashes will take place at Carrboro High School on Friday, March 21; at East Chapel Hill High on Wednesday, April 9; and at Chapel Hill High on Friday, May 2 during the school day.


The Greater Chapel Hill Association of REALTORS has earned a grant to promote affordable housing in the local community.

The grant comes from the Housing Opportunity Program of the National Association of REALTORS; the Greater Chapel Hill branch will use the funds to produce a housing expo in Chatham County.


Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Amanda Bennett will be on campus Thursday, March 20, speaking as part of UNC’s Women in Media Leadership Series.

Working for the Wall Street Journal, Bennett won the Pulitzer in 1997 for her coverage of the AIDS crisis, and a second Pulitzer with The Oregonian for an expose of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She’s also the author of “The Cost of Hope,” a book about confronting death in the context of the U.S. healthcare system.

Bennett’s talk will begin at 5:30 p.m. on March 20 in the Freedom Forum Conference Center in Carroll Hall. It’s free and open to the public.


This weekend, a nationally-recognized dance choreographer will be in the Triangle to support arts education in local schools.

Jacques d’Amboise is the principal dancer-choreographer for the NYC Ballet. He’s in town from Thursday through Saturday, March 20-22, to support NC Arts in Action – which provides in-school and afterschool dance programs for kids, based on a model d’Amboise developed back in the 1970s.

On Thursday d’Amboise will be in Chapel Hill, meeting with fourth-graders at Northside Elementary School.

Trash Terminators 2.0 Take Carrboro to Composting School

CARRBORO- Once again, a group of Chapel Hill middle schoolers looks like a sure bet to bring home the gold in a national science challenge. No matter that, we’re all winners, thanks to the work they do.

“We’re the Trash Terminators 2.0,” Rohan Deshpande announced to aldermen and spectators at Carrboro Town Hall. ”We’re working towards the Lexus Eco Challenge.”

Rohan, a student at Phillips Middle School, is the mainstay member of Trash Terminators, a group of science-minded Chapel Hill kids with a mission to protect the planet from greenhouse gas and methane emissions.

Last year, Rohan and two other students won first place in Siemens’ national “We Can Change the World” challenge. This past Tuesday night, Rohan told Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen how they did it.

“We diverted 25 percent of our trash from going to a landfill,” he reported.

This year’s team of Rohan, Vincent Chen, Elizabeth Farmer, Quentin Sieredzki and Graeme Zimmermann is keeping it going. They’ve entered into the Lexus Eco Challenge, where they’ve made it to the national section. The money they won from that so far has gone back into green initiatives at their school.

The challenge gives teams the opportunity to win up to $30,000 in grants and scholarships for the best ideas about protecting the environment.

During this school year, the Terminators have been addressing a situation created by the closing of the Orange County Landfill last summer.

“This means that trash is being transported to a location that is more than a hundred miles away,” Rohan observed. “This is also adding costs, and creates more pollution.”

The Terminators used a carbon footprint calculator to determine that for every ton of trash the city ships to the new landfill, 57 pounds of carbon dioxide will be emitted, and $55 of taxpayer money will be spent.

The kids also figured out that 55 percent of Phillips’ cafeteria trash is compostable waste. So they started a composting program at the school.

Terminator Quentin told aldermen how they did it.

“We set up composting bins in our school cafeteria,” he said, “in which students and staff dump all their compostable food items, which include food waste, food trays and napkins.”

Brooks Contractor in Goldston collects the compost twice a week. Liquid waste has been diverted from the trash, and recycling efforts have been ramped up.

“Our goal is to send only pure trash to the landfill, which will reduce carbon emission and cost,” said Quentin.

The students managed to reduce trash pickups as well, which saved Phillips School money.

Terminator Vincent Chen said it’s been a schoolwide effort, with students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents involved.

“In the lunchroom, we had parents, students and volunteers to help students with composting during lunch.”

There was a charitable component as well.

“We also started a ‘giving table’ where we keep all the uneaten and unopened food,” said Vincent.

The food is distributed to families on meal plans, and it’s available to students and staff as well.

“We diverted more than 80 percent of the trash going to a landfill by recycling and composting,” said Vincent. “We will divert 20,500 pounds of trash over 180 state days of school at Phillips.”

The plan saves about $550 in gas by reducing shipping. And it will prevent about 574 pounds of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. The kids figure that if all area middle schools adopted this initiative, there would be 41 tons less of trash in landfills over the next school year.

The Terminators spread the word with public information tables, a Time Warner infomercial, and social media outreach.

And they conducted a survey that showed how most citizens would like to see municipal composting.

Alderman Sammy Slade, like all his colleagues, was impressed.

“I would like to partner with y’all to find out how we could do this in Carrboro,” he said. “Because you have so much knowledge.”

Slade recommended that the kids approach the school board about using some of the savings on even more green initiatives.

Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested that the kids look to the State Department of Environmental Resources Division of Solid Waste for a grant.

“Now more than ever, not only municipally, but in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but in the county, we need this,” she said, “because of the landfill.”

Alderman Damon Seils had the last word, by stating what must have been on everyone’s mind.

“I was just going to make the observation that Chapel Hill and Carrboro just got schooled by the Trash Terminators,” said Seils.

Orange Commissioners Seek Input on Recycling

HILLSBOROUGH – Thursday night, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to conduct two more public hearings on a contentious recycling issue in Orange County.

Orange County Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson told Commissioners Thursday that a proposed tax for expanded curbside recycling would not hit residents too hard in the wallet, compared to past fees for the service.

“At this rate, a property valued at $250,000 would pay about $37.50,” Wilson said. “Those properties that are currently located within our service area used to pay $38, so it’s fairly close.”

Wilson broke down the preliminary cost estimate for a proposed service district that would add about 8,000 parcels to the existing 13,750 households, with residents that had been paying a fee for curbside recycling.

That was until a court ruled in December 2012 that the county has no authority to tack the fees onto property tax bills.

Wilson reported that the estimated cost to implement expanded curbside service is $630.000, or about 1.5 cents per $100 of property value.

It’s meeting with some resistance from people that live in rural areas, where gravel driveways can extend the length of a road sometimes. That’s a long way to push the roll carts that would have to be purchased and distributed.

Early in Thursday night’s discussion, Commissioner Earl McKee expressed skepticism about the plan, after reading in the report that only 57 percent of people who paid the fee set out their recycling at the curb regularly.

“My point is that there were multiple thousands of people that were paying the 3R curbside fee that were not using the service,” McKee said. “They either were not recycling, or they were taking it to the convenience center.”

Solid waste convenience centers, such as those in Efland and Hillsborough, are a popular choice than curbside recycling for some rural residents.

That constituency was well-represented at Thursday night’s meeting in Hillsborough, where several citizens spoke out against the proposed service district, and just one citizen spoke in favor of it.

That brought Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier to conclude that the county failed to advertise to the public that recycling would be on the meeting agenda Thursday evening. If it had, more of those in favor of the tax district may have shown up.

“Part of the problem that we face is that there isn’t really good data on some of the things we’re considering,” Pelissier said, “because it sends up being opinions – people’s opinions or perceptions about what may happen, what has happened, and why, etc.”

On February 4, the Board will decide on the dates and locations of two more public hearings about recycling. Commissioners say they want more information from staff on alternatives to the district tax, including funding the program voluntarily through a subscription service or drawing from the general fund.

BoCC Eyes Rural Recycling District Tax Plan

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.

CHTC Candidates Talk Safety, Solid Waste And Working With OC

CHAPEL HILL- The nine candidates vying for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council weighed in on a variety of issues at Monday’s WCHL candidate forum, but a question from a listener about dealing with the homeless population downtown sparked the evening’s most heated debate.

***Listen to the forum***

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A woman wrote in via twitter to say she’s tired of being harassed by homeless people when she’s downtown. She asked the candidates what could be done to improve the perception of safety.

Though he sympathized with her complaint, D.C. Swinton said the idea that homeless people pose a threat is based on misperception, not reality.

“The frequency of a homeless person being the perpetrator of some sort of violence is very small, so we need to take away some of the stigma of homelessness,” said Swinton.

But Gary Kahn disagreed.

“I come from a city and there are a lot of homeless people there,” said Kahn. “They have attacked people walking on the street, so I think your attitude on the homeless people is totally off-base.”

Council member Sally Greene, who’s served on Orange County’s Partnership to End Homelessness said that’s not the case in Chapel Hill.

“The statistics on who is attacking whom, in Chapel Hill and other places, is that they are more often the victims than the perpetrators,” said Greene. “There are numbers that can prove that.”

Amy Ryan suggested an education campaign.

“I think more education for the public into things like panhandling ordinances and what is allowed might be a good idea,” said Ryan.

George Cianciolo introduced the idea of “Downtown Ambassadors.”

“I think a lot of the problems with homeless people, they become sometimes harsh because people ignore them, they act like they don’t exist there. I think having people strolling the downtown as ambassadors, both to visitors and the people on the street might soften the situation,” said Cianciolo.

Candidates also turned their attention to the question of what to do with the town’s waste and recyclables.

Maria Palmer said she’d support investment in some kind of clean waste-incineration technology, even if that technology is not immediately available.

“We don’t plan and build things for right now, we’re talking about what is going to work ten years down the road, 15 years down the road,” said Palmer. “We have a responsibility to our children and the future residents of Chapel Hill to invest in infrastructure that is clean and serves the town for many years.”

But Loren Hintz, who currently serves on Orange County’s Commission for the Environment, said it could be tough to make that work on a local level.

“There’s a conflict between incineration and recycling because if you increase the amount of recycling you have less waste that can be burned,” said Hintz. “I think the economics of incineration, even if it was to use clean technology, is that Orange County by itself cannot produce enough for that to be economically viable.”

When asked if they’d support collaborating with Orange County, most agreed, but with a few caveats. Incumbent Ed Harrison said it comes down to the fiscal bottom line.

“Your primary fiduciary responsibility is to the town, and any of these agreements in this collaboration has to work well for Chapel Hill before it works well for anybody else,” said Harrison. “We hope we collaborate well enough that it works for everybody.”

Harrison and others noted that the recent change in county management would likely help smooth the way for new cooperation between local governments.

Paul Neebe summed up a strategy all candidates could endorse: “I think we all want what is best for the county and the city and we just need to get together and talk.”

Early voting starts October 17 and runs through November 2. Election Day is November 5.

OC: Flood Assistance Moved; Recycling Rules

ORANGE COUNTY – If you need flood assistance from the Small Business Administration, you’ll have to call or go online to find it.

On Friday, the County announced the Flood Assistance Center at University Mall was shut down. However, assistance from the SBA is still available until September 13.

For more information or to contact the SBA Customer Service Center, you can call 1.800.659.2955 or visit


You might think degradable or compostable products are good for the environment, but it’s important to know how to properly dispose of them.

According to the Orange County Solid Waste Department, degradable or compostable materials that go through the recycling process that regular plastics go through to make things like carpets compromise the materials.

North Carolina House Bill 315 was signed by Governor Pat McCrory in June to require clear and explicit labeling on products that should not go in the recycling bin. However, the bill’s required labeling doesn’t take place until next year, so Orange County Solid Waste is asking you to pay close attention to what you throw in the bins.

BOA Sifts Through Solid Waste

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a motion Tuesday night suggesting the Board of County Commissioners create a Tax District to fund solid waste and recycling in Orange County.

Here’s Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton

“I think that given that our costs are going to spike upward very significantly with the closure of the land fill because of this hauling stuff, that it is time to do this now,” says Chilton. “Right now. Our County Commissioners need to move forward with this.”

In an April email, County staff recommended four options to the County Commissioners: the creation of a Solid Waste Management Authority similar to OWASA, the implementation of either a full or limited County Solid Waste Tax District to raise funds for services, or simply leaving each town to decide on their own recycling program.

The Aldermen ultimately decided on the third option, wherein only those in the service area would pay a tax to help fund the program.

As far as service in Town of Carrboro is concerned, there is little difference between the second or third options. But members of the Board agreed that it would be inequitable for county residents not receiving the service to be forced to fund it.

Although the Board was generally against the creation of a Solid Waste Management Authority, one aspect of that proposal did intrigue the Aldermen—the creation of a local transfer station—which was of particular interest to Aldermen Randee Haven O’Donnell.

“The local transfer station would keep us from having to transfer to another county, which I really disapprove of,” says O’Donnell. “I think when we start to take care of the waste in our county, we’ll be better stewards. I really feel unclean sending my stuff to south Durham.”

The Board passed a motion instructing the County to bypass the creation of an authority and to simply look into the possibility a disposal station in Orange County.

The Board also agreed to participate in a Town of Chapel Hill study evaluating the viability of a local transfer station.

Other discussion revolved around some of the technological innovations the new program could implement, such as an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in each bin as explained by Carrboro Public Works Director George Seiz.

“In essence, there is a chip in the cart that then can be read by radio frequencies,” says Seiz. “When the truck lifts it, it weighs it and that information, address and so forth, then is sent back to a central location so that you can generate information—billing and those types of things.”

Aldermen Sammy Slade also pointed out that other municipalities have used the RFID card to encourage recycling.

“What is allows for is there are communities that have used it and instituted creative programs that incentives people to recycle more by rewarding them,” says Slade, “for example by how much their recycling bin weighs.”

But despite the optimism surrounding the various options, Mayor Chilton says that until he sees politicians willing to make tough decisions on the matter, all of these ideas could be for naught.

“I’ve seen us do study after study, probably adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 22 years through different levels of local government on looking into these various technologies,” says Chilton. “All of it was for naught because we didn’t have elected officials who were committed to doing it. And I don’t know if we ever will.”

Chilton specifically mentioned studies on waste-to-energy       facilities, as well as potential landfill and transfer station sites as some of the largest expenditures.

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.

Recent Ruling Leaves OC Recycling Program In Limbo

CHAPEL HILL- A recent court case is prompting Orange County to rethink how it recycles, meaning the longtime town and county partnership may be coming to an end.
“What a shame,” said Commissioner Penny Rich, speaking at Thursday’s joint meetingbetween the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners. “We have an amazing recycling system, we have an amazing group of folks that work for us, we’re known throughout the state for the good things we do. What a shame that we’re going through this.”
A decision last December by the North Carolina Supreme Court has put Orange County’s recycling program in jeopardy, as the ruling suggests the county has no authority to charge a fee for recycling services.

“Unless the legislature considers changes to the statutes, we have to find another methodology to fund recycling, especially curbside recycling,” said County Manager Frank Clifton.

Currently, the county provides curbside recycling pick-up to about 13,000 rural residents, as well as all single-family homes and apartments in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.

The service is funded through a series of fees that are levied along with the county’s annual property tax bill. Those bills were due back in January, meaning the recycling program is fully funded for another year, but given the recent court ruling, the county will not levy the fee again unless granted permission by the General Assembly.

That means all three towns and the county have until the end of the next fiscal year in June of 2014 to come up with other options.
One possibility is for the towns and county to go their separate ways and enter into franchise agreements with private haulers. But some elected officials worry that switching from a mandatory to voluntary recycling system will lead to lower recycling rates.

Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil said that Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough are considering some type of municipal collaboration that would exclude Orange County.

“We were assuming we could get the same level of service for less cost because of our density and because of our ability to integrate the program with things like pay-as-you-throw and our other collections,” said Stancil. “For the towns now, solid waste is a big core service, so it’s a real way for us to gain some efficiency.”

Another possibility would be to create service districts and levy a countywide tax, similar to how fire districts are funded. County Manager Clifton said that’s the best option for continuing or expanding recycling services.
“The service district proposal grants the county the greatest number of options to continue all services in some form or another, and probably to justify the expansion of services that aren’t there now, because the tax would be countywide,” Clifton told elected officials. “But that would only occur if the towns opt into the process and participate. If the towns decide to do their own thing separately, then the towns wouldn’t be covered.”

A third possibility would be to create an independent solid waste authority, along the same lines as OWASA, to handle trash and recycling.

County Board Chair Barry Jacobs urged elected officials to look beyond the immediate issue and come together on a long-term solid waste plan.

“It seems like the towns and the county, although they’re speaking to one another, they’re not really planning together. And I’m really disappointed in that,” said Jacobs. “We’re talking, for instance, about a waste transfer station. Why isn’t the county part of that conversation? I don’t even think we’re welcome to be part of that conversation. Why is that? Why are we not as elected officials meeting to find solutions that are joint solutions? How are we going to have a comprehensive system if we’re meeting in separate realms? I don’t get it.”

But Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said while a shared solution sounds good, it’s in the best interest of Chapel Hill taxpayers to explore all options.

“It would be, I think, unwise for us to not at least know what the opportunity cost would be and what the trade-off would be, if we were going to continue to look at things like solid waste and recycling on a countywide basis,” said Kleinschmidt.
County commissioners will hear a full report from staff on options for future recycling funding on April 9. Both the county board and the town council agreed to reconvene a joint meeting before making any final decisions.