Commissioners may raise rural solid-waste fee

Jun. 10, 2014 @ 09:38 PM

County officials are leaning toward increasing the rural solid-waste fee by $14 a household to pay for the expansion of roll-out recycling and ease pressure on other parts of their fiscal 2014-15 budget.
The move would boost the annual fee to $139, General Services Director Motiryo Keambiroiro said, adding that 20 or so households not in Durham County that use the county’s solid-waste services would pay double that.
Formal decisions by County Commissioners on next year’s spending plan remained pending after the issue was discussed Tuesday during an all-day budget review.
But “I didn’t hear anybody say no to that,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.
Reckhow and her colleagues have signaled a desire to scale back County Manager Wendell Davis’ request for an increase of the county’s property tax rate of 2.73 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Some are just as eager to forgo some of the spending cuts Davis suggested over the weekend as a way to get the tax request down to 1.93 cents per $100 of assessed value.
He among other things suggested slashing spending on open-space projects and reducing the county’s subsidies of nonprofit organizations.
The increase of the waste fee would generate about $240,000, and has been floating around as a possibility ever since Keambiroiro and her staff briefed commissioners on the roll-cart program expansion earlier this month.
Most rural residents now set their recycled goods out for collection in small, 18-gallon bins. But last year, the county and its collection contractor, Waste Industries, conducted an experiment with using larger roll carts at some 2,000 homes.
Participants recycled about 34 percent more goods than they did before receiving carts. That has county officials eager to spread the cart initiative to other households in rural Durham.
The initial plan from General Services for financing the expansion called for the countywide tax base to take the hit. But Reckhow noted earlier this month that city residents already have curbside recycling and pay for it via city property taxes.
Raising the monthly solid-waste fee is “more equitable,” avoiding the double taxation of city residents who don’t have to pay the rural availability fee, she said.
The prospective cut to open-space programs, meanwhile, drew criticism during a Monday night public hearing from groups like the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Ellerbe Creek Watershed association.
They were most worried about the suggested elimination of a 1991-vintage program that provides matching funds to small-scale open space and park projects.
Davis initially proposed cutting the grant program’s budget to $60,000, down from the current $77,175, and later listed it as a candidate to zero out.
He said the county staff has received few applications for grant support in recent years and believes the program is an “inefficient kind of arrangement” to administer given the small sums involved.
But Reckhow said applications likely fell off because officials suspended the program entirely in 2010 and 2011 amid the continuing fallout of the 2008-09 recession.
She and Commissioner Wendy Jacobs also noted that grant recipients have to match the county’s funding at least on a dollar-for-dollar basis.