County to expand use of roll-out recycling carts

Jun. 02, 2014 @ 07:08 PM

County officials say an experiment with using roll-out carts for rural recycling has been a success, and it will be expanded to more households in fiscal 2014-15.

The pilot program affected about 2,000 households, which saw small, hand-carried bins replaced with roll-out carts similar to those the city has used since 2009-10. The county’s expansion will take in about 7,000 more homes.

Solid Waste Program Manager Brian Haynesworth told County Commissioners on Monday the homes that received the 95-gallon carts proved more willing to recycle and overall turned in about 34 percent more goods than they had with the 18-gallon bins.

County Manager Wendell Davis’ fiscal 2014-15 budget request assumes the commissioners will support the expansion. The roll-out program will cost, all told, $401,160 in the coming year.

Haynesworth said the county can fund the change without increasing its $122-a-year “availability fee” rural households pay for recycling, the county’s drop-off centers and other solid-waste-related services.

But that prompted a question from Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who noted that Davis’ budget request assumes officials will put $367,409 in countywide, general tax revenue into the $2.1 million solid waste program.

Reckhow inquired why administrators hadn’t considered “a modest rate increase” in the availability fee to do away with the tax funding, as the tax money amounts to a cross-subsidy of rural residents by people who live in the city of Durham and the portion of Chapel Hill that’s in Durham County.

Davis said he and his staff opted to hold the line on the availability fee because the county among other things is facing higher EMS costs and is considering raising fire-service taxes in four of its five rural fire department service districts.

In light of those things, “I was not exactly sure you were willing to have that conversation,” Davis said of raising the solid-waste availability fee as well.

He noted, however, that a majority of residents who participated in an online survey about the roll-out-cart pilot program indicated they’d be willing to pay more for the service.

The survey indicated overwhelming support for the carts themselves. But about 40 percent of those who answered said they weren’t willing to pay more for them.

Reckhow acknowledged raising the point as Durham’s City Council debates whether to do away with its year-old, $1.80-a-month fee for household trash collection.

Critics of the city fee want it repealed in favor of an offsetting property tax increase. They argue that one-size-fits-all fees are regressive, costing low- and middle-income residents more than a revenue-equivalent tax.

Reckhow said the county issues around fees are “a little different than the city’s” given the possibility of urban/rural cross-subsidies.

The county uses a private contractor, Waste Industries, to handle the carts and recycling pickups. Haynesworth said the county’s solid-waste staff, based in its General Services Department, isn’t large enough to handle a cart program in-house.