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.