Editorial: Franchise may prove less damaging for recycling program

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 08:28 PM

Orange County, a proud proponent of sustainability efforts, faces a rather unpleasant prospect.

Currently, Orange is ranked first in the state for waste reduction during the past decade, due largely to its recycling program and educational outreach.

But they may be poised to throw away that accomplishment.

As The Herald-Sun’s Beth Velliquette reported on Monday, attorneys for the county are concerned that the recycling fee that Orange has levied against residents for the service may not meet statutory standards because it was never approved by the N.C. General Assembly.

The state Court of Appeals recently heard a case from Cabarrus County dealing with similar issues. Michael Talbert, Orange County’s assistant manager, said that legal case motivated the need to find a new way to finance the local program.

It seems like Orange County has been a victim of its own success with the popular recycling program.

In 2004, the county reported lost revenue from the landfill and couldn’t make enough money selling recycled items to support the program. This led to the establishment of the 3-R Fee – “Reduce, Reuse and Recycling Fee.” For 2012-13, that amounts to a base cost of $37 on the annual tax bill, plus added costs ranging from $19 to $52 for curbside recycling at multifamily, rural and urban properties.

Now, they’re entertaining two key ideas: privatizing the service, possibly with a single-hauler franchise, or shifting to a subscription service.

Local haulers argue that a franchise approach would put smaller operators out of business. Jan Sassaman, chair of the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board, noted that the franchise system could send jobs and tax dollars out of Orange County.

But he didn’t seem to think much of the subscription-based approach, either: “It would create a disincentive for recycling inasmuch that citizens would be asked to pay more for services.”

Orange County Commissioner Renee Price felt uneasy about the franchise option and wants to explore more alternatives.

We hope she and her colleagues on the board find some, because both options currently on the table seem liable to hurt the successful program.

Of the two, the subscription concept seems likely to prove most damaging, especially if it becomes a higher-priced monthly bill. The franchise approach could have the benefit of making the least obvious impact on residents who already use the service.

However, we share concerns about keeping opportunities open to local independent operators and we’d rather see those jobs and tax dollars staying in Orange.