Outcry blunts solid waste fee increase

May. 07, 2013 @ 04:40 PM

After many resident calls and emails, the Union County Board of Commissioners decided not to implement the proposed rate increase and payment method for the county’s six solid waste disposal sites.

But residents will still pay more at convenience sites.

Several people spoke about the rates during public comments Monday night. Parkwood area resident Thomas Marsh said he fears that people will dump or burn their trash instead of paying more to dispose of it.

“People are not really wanting to fork out that extra money,” he said.

Jennifer Stringfellow said residents are getting mixed messages from the county over how to solve solid waste funding. Of particular concern is a 2011 county press release explaining a fee increase for 30-gallon bags.

“It said that with this fee charge, which is the first in many years, the county will continue to provide this important service to our citizens,” Stringfellow said. “I, at that point, expected that if that were not the case, we would have been told something before this major increase.”

Recycling would help balance costs, but the county has never pushed for a recycling program, she said.

Officials said recycling more would reduce the cost to the county, but Kim Pittman brought her garbage to show commissioners that there are plenty of materials not accepted by recyclers.  

“This is just today’s...some of the items I can’t recycle in this county,” she said. From a white kitchen bag she drew out a used pizza box, an animal feed bag, a styrofoam egg carton and other seemingly reusable items disallowed in the county’s recycling program.On average, her household produces three such bags of trash per day. At $1 per bag, throwing trash away represents a large chunk out of an ever-shrinking household budget.

But something must be done to fix solid waste service funding so it no longer operates at a $500,000 annual deficit, Union County Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said. Higher rates would close that gap. But to keep convenience site employees safe, the county planned to partner with WasteZero, a company that makes and markets special bags. By buying the $1 13-gallon bags or the $2 30-gallon bags, the customer pays dumping fees up front, site attendants will not have to handle money and customers simply have to show up to convenience sites, show the special bags and throw them away.

But each commissioner said he was contacted by residents that thought the process was far more complicated and expensive than it needed to be.

“It seems to me that a vast majority...of the concerns have to do more with the bags than the rates,” Commissioner Todd Johnson said. Most people he heard from understand that the current rate is not enough to pay for the service. Some are surpised to learn that solid waste management is self-funded, meaning that the money required to continue the service comes from user fees. Once they realize that, Johnson said they are more understanding of the rate increase.

But special bags issued by the county, available in most every store adds hassle.

Johnson suggested the county double rates instead of tripling them - charging 50 cents for smaller bags and $1.50 for larger bags. He also suggested dropping the special bag requirement.

Commissioner Frank Aikmus agreed the bags should go, but said it was important for the program to stop operating in the deficit. Current rates recoup only about 30 percent of the county’s cost to dispose of 13-gallon bag costs and 55 percent on 30-gallon bags.

Aikmus proposed scrapping plans for the bags, consider a 50 cent rate increase for both bag sizes. The new rates would mean recouping more than 90 percent of the county’s cost, Aikmus said.   

“It evens up the playing field, if you will,” he said.

But since Union County taxpayers will subsidize a portion of the fees, commissioners agreed staff should establish some way of checking customer’s residency to ensure only local taxpayers are benefiting from that subsidy.

Aikmus made the motion to increase fees to 75 cents for smaller bags and $1. for large bags, the county not enter into an agreement with WasteZero for special bag services and that staff devise a plan for the suggested program improvements. It passed by unanimous vote.