Residents turn noses up at trash fee increase

May. 04, 2013 @ 04:39 PM

Monday, the Union County Board of Commissioners can expect a conference room filled with residents unhappy with a proposed rate increase and payment method for residents using convenience sites.

Last month, the county proposed increasing fees for disposing of bags at six convenience sites from 25 cents to $1 for 13-gallon bags and from 75 cents

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to $2 for 30-gallon bags. Currently, the sites are funded with “pay-as-you-throw” system where customers pay per bag when the bring trash to the disposal site.

The change would also approve a contract with WasteZero, a company that will provide and market special bags in stores around the county. Convenience sites would accept the special county bags at convenience sites only. No unmarked commercially available garbage bags would be accepted.

The price of the special bag would be how the county collects disposal fees instead of the current method of paying cash at the sites.

Some people complain the increase is a sharp jump in a short time. They also question why special bags are needed.

“Are these biodegradable? How many are we buying at a time? Does it cost us more for bags with the county logo on them?” Thomas Marsh said. “I’ve got a lot of questions about these changes.”

As a disabled veteran, Marsh said the the cost of food, gasoline, utilities and other necessities claims more of his monthly income all the time.

“I’m on Disability and $2 a bag is going to hurt,” he said.

Neighbors and friends said they intend to speak against the increase at the commissioners’ meeting Monday, Marsh said.

The county has put off site fee increases for years, Union County Public Works Solid Waste Division Manager Bobby Banks said.  

“Since 1997, when the county closed its landfill and we went to convenience sites, the sites have never paid for themselves,” Banks said.

Though the county increased the fee for larger garbage bags in 2011, 13-gallon kitchen bags have remained the same price set back in 1992, he said. Officials have tried to keep the operations as low-cost as possible, but eventually the solid waste program was not making enough revenue off incoming garbage disposal to pay a part-time employee to monitor a site and pay for use of a transfer station instead of a landfill.

“It costs about 83 cents to dispose of one of the smaller bags,” Banks said. “If we’re only getting 25 cents from the customers, we’re losing a lot of money on disposal.”

Solid waste, like the county’s water and sewer systems, operates like a utility. No taxpayer money is used to pay for its operations. Instead, the service needs to pay for itself through service fees.

The decision to require use of county-issed garbage bags is tied to employee security. Customers will pay the disposal fee up front by buying special bags. That way, convenience site attendants will not take or look after cash.

“When the fees were just a quarter, no one cared about it,” Banks said. “But the more money they would collect, the more interested some people would be.”

Because most attendants are older, Banks said he is concerned for their safety from would-be thieves.

The bags, emblazoned with the county logo, will be made of thicker, three-ply plastic with a drawstring closure. WasteZero makes and distributes bags to major retail chains, so residents will find places to buy them in their neighborhood. Most national chains are on board, but officials are offering contracts with convenience stores.

“Our goal is to have them anywhere, in any store that wants to carry them,” he said.

If approved, the program will begin on July 1. It begins with a three-month transition period where customers can use their own bags, but after Oct. 1, only special county-issued garbage bags will be accepted.

Recycling will remain free of charge at the sites. That should give residents an incentive to recycle more.

“Right now, we’re at about a 20 percent recycle rate,” Banks said. “That could be much better and free recycling might be how we do that.”

Certain recyclable materials are sold for production of other products. Any revenue made off those sales go back into funding convenience site operations, Banks said.

While the county has legitimate reasons to increase costs, Marsh said he heard some locals say they will begin burning or dumping trash instead of paying extra for disposal.

“What are they going to do when this county gets trashed because people are dumping their garbage on the side of the road at night?” Marsh said.

The Union County Board of Commissioners meets 7 p.m. Monday on the first floor of the county government building.