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Hearing set on waste fee hike

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Staff photo by Thomas J. Turney Rich Olson, Thursday,15, 2012.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, December 14, 2018

Elizabeth City officials are looking to increase solid waste fees for residents in February, citing the rising costs of recycling.

City Council voted unanimously Monday to hold a public hearing on Jan. 14 to discuss raising the city’s monthly solid waste fee from $22 to $23, effective Feb. 1. Councilors approved the public hearing without discussion, following councilors’ agreement on the increase at last week's council finance committee meeting.

If enacted, the increase would generate about $25,000 through June 30, the end of this budget year, based on figures from city staff. That money is needed because the city is paying $100 a ton to haul off recyclables, City Manager Rich Olson told the finance committee.

That's a reversal from when the city made money off recyclables. The city's solid waste hauler, Waste Industries, paid the city $3 a ton for recyclables about four years ago. The recyclables market started worsening, however, forcing the city to pay $30 a ton two years ago and now $100 a ton, Olson explained.

Based on the $30 charge, the city had budgeted $30,000 a year for 2018-19, but that amount is on track to run out next month, based on a staff memo reporting the city paying about $5,500 a month for recyclables and having already spent about $21,000.

Even if the increase goes into effect on Feb. 1, Olson said Tuesday the city will still have to dip into the solid waste fund's reserves by a few thousand dollars to cover its recycling costs.

It is cheaper now to simply dispose of recyclables like other trash, city staff reported last week, though they didn't support doing so.

“Do you want to un-train your public to not recycle?” asked Assistant City Manager Angela Cole, stating it would be difficult, both locally and globally, to get people recycling again if they stop.

Olson added that disposing of recyclables like other trash also means landfills fill up faster, meaning landfill owners, such as Pasquotank County, would have to sooner spend millions of dollars on closing landfills and opening new ones.

Mayor Bettie Parker and Councilor Jeannie Young similarly said recycling was important, while Councilor Johnnie Walton said he didn't think $1 is going to “break” anyone. They and the other councilors in attendance, Anita Hummer and Rickey King, agreed to forward the increase to council.

Asked Tuesday why the city could not afford recyclables' rising costs without a fee increase, Olson said the solid waste fund needs money for maintaining operations and replacing equipment. The city needs a new street sweeper truck and possibly a new trash truck next year, purchases that could total $500,000, he said.

The entire solid waste budget is about $1.77 million, according to the 2018-19 budget. Notably, it is set up as an enterprise fund, meaning it relies only on its own revenues to support services.

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