- an interlocal agreement on solid waste;
- reducing solid waste that is not recycled;
- recycling opportunities and services;
- siting a transfer station or landfill within the county;
- supporting public education on solid waste issues;
- construction and demolition waste;
- assuring long-term partnership of the entities involved through an interlocal agreement on waste handling and disposal;
- addressing equitable funding and mechanisms for establishing fees and making future joint decisions;
- future use of closed landfill sites;
- investigation of partnership possibilities involving neighboring jurisdictions;
- feasibility of innovative and cost-effective, environmentally-sound methods of disposal of solid waste beyond burial;
- potential inclusion of biosolids in long-range disposal plans;
- emergency storm debris planning; and
- treatment of communities impacted by siting of any facilities either within Orange County or beyond its borders to receive shipments of waste.
How did we get to this point? I've had a hard time documenting the answer to that question but here's what I think I know. I welcome any corrections/additional details.
The town of Chapel Hill built the landfill on Rogers Road back in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, the town initiated a drop-off recycling program and a public education program, and a few years later created a Waste Reduction Task Force that eventually led to the curbside recycling program. Sometime in the late 1990s, operational control of the landfill and the recycling program, as well as all public communications and outreach responsibilities, transferred to the county. A landfill-owners group was created to handle policy decisions.
By the time I moved back here in 2002, Chapel Hill and Carrboro and a surrounding portion of the county had a well-functioning curbside recycling program. The urban areas were served by a commercial contractor that the county managed, and the county areas were served by the county staff. Sometime in the 1990s, the convenience centers were created and became a vital service for rural residents. Additionally, recycling services expanded to include construction and waste, white goods, tires, electronics and others. Initially, the county services were paid for through tipping fees received at the landfill. Urban recycling was paid, in part, through municipal taxes (I think).
In 2006, the county implemented a tiered-fee structure, called the 3R fee, to help pay for convenience centers, recycling, administration, and outreach. The 3-tiered fee included a 1) basic services fee that everyone paid, 2) a recycling fee assessed by where you lived (urban, rural, multifamily), and 3) a convenience center fee that like recycling was assessed according to where you lived (urban, rural, multifamily). (The convenience center fee was added in 2012.)
Then a group of rural citizens decided they didn't want to pay the recycling fee, claiming they shouldn't have to pay for a service they didn't or couldn't use due to long-driveways or the fact they already had to take their trash to a convenience center and could take their recycling at the same time. That group took their concerns to then-Manager Clifton and got his and the county lawyer's support. The commissioners were advised that citizens could potentially sue the county, and if they won, the county would have to refund all those collected fees because, while municipalities have the authority from the North Carolina legislature to levy solid waste fees, counties do not.
Since that time, the county has been paying for the curbside/roadside service through the solid waste reserve fund while seeking a permanent solution for the recycling fee for the unincorporated areas.
The solid waste reserve fund was built up over the years when the landfill was open and generating tipping fees for the purpose of closing it-it will have to be monitor for 30 years against leakage and other environmental problems. Without new tipping fees, the county will have to find some way to reimburse the fund. Where those funds will come from is unknown at this time.
How do we pay for recycling? Another murky issue. The 3R fees paid for part of it, as does the sale of collected waste. Collected materials are sold on the open market so the prices fluctuate wildly from year to year. The Solid Waste department also depended on the landfill tipping fees to supplement the recycling/convenience center budget. When the landfill closed earlier than anticipated, a budget shortfall was created. The county commissioners knew this would happen but determined that it would be better to raise the 3R fees gradually.
Where are we now? In a mess. The SWAG is going to untangle the mess and hopefully put us back on track.