Hyde County officials face fairness issue

Published 2:52 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

By Staff
Hyde County has a stinky problem.
The county is trying to arrive at a fair way to charge residents for garbage collection. We wish them luck.
Under the present system, property owners pay $150 a year for the service. The issue, at least from the county perspective, is that fee doesn’t fully cover the cost of the service. By all estimates, the $150 fee only generates about half of the more than $1 million it costs the county to get rid of its trash.
One solution offered to the Hyde County Board of Commissioners is to double the fee. Everybody would pay $300 a year, not $150.
There are some solid arguments to support the fee, if Hyde County commissioners in turn promise to reduce the amount of property tax by a similar amount.
As it stands, the county subsidizes solid waste disposal. That means $600,000, or so, out of the general property tax revenue has to be diverted from other departments, like schools and law enforcement.
The problem with a flat fee is it provides no incentive to reduce the amount of trash that is created. Consider it like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you pay your $150 a year, you can dump all you want.
It doesn’t help that Hyde County already has a unique demographic and geographic situation. The mainland is sparsely populated with a low average wage. Ocracoke on the other hand is affluent and a popular tourist destination with huge seasonable swings in population. A bag of trash on Ocracoke faces at least a five hour trip to the landfill in Bertie County.
Being “fair” is the hard part. If you generate a lot of waste, the current system is a good deal. If you don’t generate a lot of trash, it isn’t a good deal and it isn’t fair.
In 2002, Hyde County toyed with the idea of a pay-as-you-throw system. It went as far as to have mint green bags printed, with designs like the Ocracoke lighthouse and the Mattamuskeet Lodge. The idea was residents would pay a fee per bag, and only those special bags would be accepted at trash stations.
A majority of Hyde residents didn’t like the idea back in 2002 and they probably will like it even less now.
There are logistical issues. Some people who rent out cottages on the island didn’t like the pay-as-you-throw idea because the bags they furnished to renters could simply be viewed as free souvenirs. It may also encourage some folks to try and skirt the system and illegally dump their household trash in a commercial dumpster or even worse, by the side of the road.
Because the volume of trash and the amount of the tipping fees is unlikely to be reduced, “pay as you throw” makes sense as a way to divide the disposal costs, according to Al Scarborough, an island resident and a member of the Hyde County Solid Waste Committee.
Calculating fees by any other measure — say, the number of bedrooms — is nothing less than an administrative nightmare, Scarborough said in the Virginian-Pilot story.
The City of Washington has a pay-as-you-throw system in a way. The city doesn’t issue special garbage bags, but it does issue rolling trash cans. Residents pay a monthly fee, but once the can is filled they can’t dump more.
At a public hearing on Ocracoke last week, it was apparent that the “pay as you throw” idea had barely budged from where it rested when it was abandoned in 2002.
The only thing we can say with some certainty is that no matter how the Hyde board addresses the trash issue, there will be some residents who say it stinks.