SNOW HILL — The search continues for a policy that will offset some of the money that Worcester County is losing every year to operate its landfills while still avoiding unreasonably high trash deposit fees.
“You’re not going to fee your way out of this,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley last week.
Currently, county landfills run at a huge deficit every year and have done so for the past several years. This year the county wants to cut away some of that red ink and has proposed raising the cost of transfer station permits from $60 to $100. It could add a second, pay-as-you-throw option where every trash bag taken to the station would cost $1.
It’s worth noting that even with a fee increase, anticipated to generate $175,000 in new revenue, the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund is still expected to operate at a $776,000 loss next year.
However, both options were asking too much of people, according to Pocomoke resident Bill Sparrow.
“People that are on fixed incomes, limited incomes, however you want to take it, are debating today whether they’re going to eat anything or buy drugs, the prescriptions that they need,” he said. “And you’re going to raise this almost 70 percent, $60 to $100. I think it’s unfair and it’s unreasonable. Do we want our county to look like some of the counties that we’re adjacent to with trash all over the road?”
People might resort to dumping everything out on the road rather than paying a higher fee, Commissioner Jim Purnell agreed. He is opposed to a price hike and repeatedly blamed Ocean City withdrawing from the county solid waste program five years ago as the reason why the enterprise fund is in dire straits today. Purnell called on the commission to go back to the drawing board with the fees to find a more palpable alternative.
The rest of the commission wasn’t as opposed to raising fees for a variety of reasons with the most common being that solid waste just can’t keep operating at a major loss every year. Regarding the possibility of Worcester County becoming one huge field of litter, Commission President Bud Church pointed out that the same warnings had been given years before when the fee was raised to $60 and yet county roads remain, for the most part, trash free.
Church added that it’s not fair to put all of the blame for hiked fees on the shoulders of the commission. If people weren’t constantly gaming the system and dumping trash from multiple households all under one permit, the transfer stations wouldn’t be so far in the red.
It was also time to stop constantly throwing Ocean City under the proverbial bus for the current state of affairs, said Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents that district. The resort pulled out of county trash collection program because they were able to find a better deal independently.
“… it’s time to get over it and move on,” she said.
Gulyas added that even at $100 a year that works out to less than $10 a month to dump trash at a county transfer station, a figure that she felt was affordable even for people on fixed incomes. And if they don’t have much trash they could potentially save money by using the pay-as-you-throw option at $1 a bag.
Resident Diana Purnell offered a compromise during last week’s meeting, suggesting that the county raise the fees but allow multiple vehicles to use the stations for the $100 annual charge.
“Why not have a household, with two vehicles, be $100?” she asked.
That was a possible alternative, according to Shockley, and one that was worth exploring further. Shockley asked for county staff to figure out how many accounts paid for a second sticker last year. The rest of the commission was also interested in how pay-to-throw programs have been working nationwide. That information will be presented at the next commission meeting in mid-June when a final fee price will be established.