Orange County is a county in central North Carolina with an estimated 2013 population of 140,352 people. Orange County is home to the Town of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), the oldest public university in the United States. Municipalities in Orange County include Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and parts of Durham and Mebane. Orange County’s Solid Waste Management Department oversees all of the publicly operated recycling programs in the county including the three municipalities that are primarily located in the County, while the three municipalities oversee their own garbage, yard waste and bulky good collections.
Orange County was faced with a host of operational and funding decisions during a major transitional period. The County needed to understand a complex set of circumstances, factoring in related local practices and norms, to facilitate an informed decision that would shape the future of the County’s recycling program.
The County funds recycling and waste reduction programs using a fee called the 3-R fee. In the past, each improved property in Orange County was assessed a 3-R fee, made up of a basic services fee (county’s drop-off sites, e-recycling, hazardous waste collections, outreach, enforcement, and support), plus additional fees for multi-family services, rural curbside recycling services, or urban curbside recycling services.
In 2012, concerns regarding the County’s statutory authority to charge the 3-R fee were raised and recommendations were made to the Board of County Commissioners that the Board eliminate the multi-family, urban and rural components of the fee while research was conducted to consider alternative funding methods. During this same time, the County’s municipal solid waste landfill closed.
Additonally, Orange County was interested in enhancing its strong recycling programs with improved infrastructure, specifically carts for curbside recycling and new automated collection trucks with compaction, for both rural and urban recycling customers. The County put out bids for carts and trucks.
As a result of the landfill closure, the Town of Chapel Hill began to consider operating its own solid waste and recycling programs. Chapel Hill released a request for proposal (RFP) for services, offered at the time by the County, including multi-family recycling collection, drop-off site collection, and yard waste collection. As Chapel Hill made up a significant portion of the County’s customer base, their decisions affected both the County’s services and funding sources. The County put a hold on bids for new infrastructure and began to consider whether they should attempt to create a solid waste district with the municipalities, develop an interlocal agreement to continue the relationship with the municipalities, or privatize its solid waste programs.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners created a Solid Waste Advisory Group (SWAG) to develop a draft interlocal agreement between the towns of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Orange County. The SWAG also requested participation from UNC and UNC Healthcare.
The County hired RRS to review Chapel Hill’s recycling service options RFP. The objective was to assess the cost of different service providers to compare their level, cost and quality of services to those provided by Orange County. The review confirmed that Orange County provided superior value
After Orange County and the municipalities decided to have the county continue operating all the recycling and waste reduction programs, the details of funding needed to be worked out. The County asked RRS to research how other counties in North Carolina fund their recycling programs and what services these counties offer to residents. Under guidance from Orange County staff, RRS selected and researched 15 North Carolina counties, looking into their waste reduction disposal rates, services offered, variety of funding sources including whether an enterprise fund was used, fees charged for solid waste or recycling services, fee amounts, and any exemptions to fees charged. RRS began with web-based research and phone calls to most of the counties covered, then applied waste and recycling program expertise to craft an approach that efficiently answered the questions at hand.
The research showed that North Carolina counties fund solid waste and recycling programs in a wide variety of ways. County fees for recycling services authorized by state statutes also varied greatly in terms of services paid for by the fees, the structure of the fee, and how the fees are applied.
Orange County utilized RRS’ research and findings to present funding structure recommendations to SWAG. Elected officials and solid waste staff in each of the four local governments understand how important a strong waste diversion program with stable, predictable and sustainable financing, is for their community and have made a commitment to residents to provide the best service possible. Through this research, the municipalities and the county have a better understanding of funding structures across the state, helping them to ensure that their own funding structures are designed to be cost effective and equitable, while at the same time supportive of the community’s waste diversion programs.