BoCC Bunts On Rural Recycling Pick-Up Plan

Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday backed away from a plan to create a solid waste service district tax to pay for rural recycling pick-up.

“It seems clear to me at least, that a one-size-fits-all solution is not ideal,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin.

The board side-stepped a vote on the proposed district tax in favor of what members called a more wholistic approach.

“On the 13th we’re going to be discussing a draft inter-local agreement which would bring us back into partnership, after several years, with our municipal partners,” said Board Chair Barry Jacobs. “That’s the time to start talking about what all of our options are, how they fit together, how they would be funded, to look at new ideas.”

The district tax would have replaced a fee the county attorney told the board it no longer has authority to levy. The rural curb-side recycling program currently serves about 13,700 homes, but funding runs out in July.

Residents of suburban areas outside Chapel Hill and Carrboro supported the district plan as a way to continue curb-side pick up. But rural residents protested, saying the service is not suited to areas with long driveways and no curbs.

Despite two crowded public hearings and a slew of emails, board members could not agree on the level of public support for the plan.

“I have to say that most of the emails I received were in favor of the tax,” said Penny Rich. “Most of the emails I received are people that wanted to take advantage and continue using the recycling.”

“I must be on a different email list, because the emails I received ran two to one against the tax,” Earl McKee replied.

Unlike the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Orange County does not currently host a public email archive online. However, Jacobs proposed posting all emails related to the solid waste service district tax plan on the county website for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Only one member of the public spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Bonnie Hauser, who is challenging Jacobs for his at-large seat on the board, called for the creation of a work group of citizens and elected officials to sort through solid waste issues.

“Please consider finding a simple way to fund rural curbside recycling for the short-term, possibly using reserves or the General Fund,” said Hauser. “Second, start a work group with professionals and citizens from the towns and county to work together over the next year or so to explore services, costs and fees for trash and recycling services.”

Though no board member called for a vote on either the district tax plan or its alternative, an opt-in subscription service, some, including Bernadette Pelissier, expressed frustration that the matter remains unresolved.

“While I understand that many of my colleagues want to have further conversations, and there may be fruitfulness to it, we are going to have an inequitable situation that’s going to be aggravated by not making any decision about some way to do this,” said Pelissier.

County leaders must still decide how to fund the program for at least the next year, and whether to move ahead with the purchase of roll carts.

The board will discuss the future of solid waste disposal, potential partnerships with the towns and the question of rural recycling in particular, at meetings scheduled for May 8 and 13.

CHTC Sets Priorities For 2014 And Beyond

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council met with the town’s senior management team this weekend to prioritize policy goals based on the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.

Council members agreed on the need for more affordable housing, new youth initiatives, a sustainable funding model for Chapel Hill Transit and a long-term solid waste solution.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said within 18 months the Council will be ready to decide what to do with the town’s trash.

“The staff really wants this decision made,” said Kleinschmidt. “There are on-going conversations with Orange County, with Carrboro and with the City of Durham about how we can cooperate. Now, maybe all those jurisdictions don’t come together, but there’s some secret match of jurisdictions that can come together to provide those solutions. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.”

Currently the town pays to haul trash to Durham since the Orange County landfill has closed, but staffers say the town should explore the possibility of building and operating a waste transfer station on town-owned land, a project that could cost $5.1 million.

One of the biggest challenges facing the town is the need to replace or upgrade town facilities and infrastructure.

Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer laid out more than $100 million dollars in capital needs to be financed over the next two decades, including a new police station, four fire stations and completion of the parks master plan.

“We have a fairly significant wish list and needs list of projects that we need to accomplish within the next twenty years, so balancing that is a difficult challenge,” said Pennoyer.

The Council will consider planning for a $20 million bond referendum to go on the ballot in 2017.

In addition, Council members discussed the need for increased economic development, enhanced code enforcement and a town-wide stormwater master plan.

The new policy goals will guide the Town Manager as he crafts next year’s spending plan. Budget negotiations will begin later this spring.

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.

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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.

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.

Aldermen Again Turn Attention To Future Of Rogers Road

CARRBORO – With the Rogers Road Task Force set to resume meeting, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen discussed their recommendations for the future of the area, including a section called Greene Tract.

Here’s Aldermen Sammy Slade

“The fact that this is a jointly owned public property represents an opportunity for us to really find creative ways to encourage affordable housing on those spaces, to provide green space for folks who already live there, and expand more affordable housing in an area in both of our town where things are getting really expensive and a lot of people can’t afford to be here,” says Slade.

The Greene Tract is adjacent to the Rogers Road Study area and the Town of Chapel Hill city limits. The 2006-2009 Rogers Road Small Area Plan Draft called for 86 acres of open space in the area, with 18 acres also earmarked for affordable housing.

Slade says the affordable housing aspect is an important one for the continued development of both the Rogers Road community and the town of Carrboro.

“It’s one way in which to guarantee that we have and maintain a diverse community,” says Slade. “Carrboro used to be the other side of the tracks and in a way; we have been a victim of our own success. Prices have pushed people out and we’ve essentially become gentrified, so we have to be very proactive in ensuring that it doesn’t get worse and that we try to maintain that diversity.”

Slade says localized commercial development is another potential option for the area.

Rogers Road is a historically African-American neighborhood located north of downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The area has long not only been neglected but also the source of broken promises from local government.

The Orange County Landfill has been located near Rogers Road since 1972. The Board of Aldermen also passed a resolution Tuesday night allowing Town Manager David Andrews to negotiate with either Waste Industries or the City of Durham to send their trash across county lines.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted last month to extend the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force an additional six months with the condition that they report to the commissioners on or before September 17 of this year. Slade and fellow Aldermen Michelle Johnson serve on the committee as representatives of the Town of Carrboro.

Other plans for the area could involve a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school. But Slade says a new school may not be the best use of the land.

“One of the challenges when we talk about a public school is that public schools are not so far from there,” says Slade. “There’s this question of using public property to build another public school or taking the opportunity to use that property to build affordable housing.”

The school would be in addition to two proposed community centers serving the area–one a public center jointly financed by local governments and one owned by St. Paul A.M.E Church which plans to relocate to the neighborhood in the near future.