BROOKSVILLE — The automated garbage collection proposed for all Hernando residents may have been cleaner, cheaper and faster, as its proponents insisted, but it sure wasn't popular with voters.
In not one single Hernando County voting precinct could the non-binding referendum on the service muster even a 40 percent yes vote, according to details released by Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams on Thursday.
Countywide, 67 percent of voters said no on Tuesday to the proposal.
"It pretty clearly establishes the public's preference,'' said Joe Stapf, the county's director of environmental services. "The bottom line is that we got an answer: (which is) we like the status quo.''
That puts a damper on county officials' plans to find some residents who would take part in a pilot project. If satisfied, these customers would have then helped persuade their neighbors that it works well.
"For universal (collection) to work now, it would have to be generated by the community itself,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who has been supportive of the system.
He said if a neighborhood or subdivision board wanted to try out the system, the county would work with them. Otherwise, the issue is dead.
"Only a foolish politician leads a parade that no one wants to march in and that's what this is now,'' he said.
"I voted yes and I think it would have been a good deal for me and for my neighborhood,'' Stabins said. "But I lost.''
Even with the strong no vote, the exact details are unclear as to what garbage collection in Hernando County will look like on Oct. 1 next year. That's when new garbage franchise agreements will go into effect. The county is preparing to seek bids from garbage haulers on a menu of service and price options.
The vote was meant to provide some guidance on how the county should craft these agreements. But even if the service is similar to what is provided by the three current haulers, Stapf has said the new price is unknown at this time.
Currently, Hernando is cut up into three territories, and one hauler has the contract to provide twice-weekly garbage service in each area. There is a portion of Spring Hill that has mandatory garbage collection twice per week and curbside recycling every other week.
The universal, automated system would have set once per week each of trash, yard waste and recycling pickup. Each customer would have had specially marked bins for each purpose and those bins would be picked up and dumped by specially equipped trucks.
Specifics, such as prices and how many haulers would be chosen, were to be worked out after the precinct by precinct analysis was done and the bids were received.
Stapf traveled around the community talking about the service and answering a myriad of questions. He explained how a one-size-fits-all solution might offer the best price point but acknowledged that it might not fit with every resident's circumstances.
And he heard a lot about those circumstances.
He concluded that there were several common issues among opponents of the system. They did not want just one pickup of garbage per week. They did not know if they could handle or store the large bins. They did not want the county's convenience center garbage drop-off points closed.
Stapf said the county will follow through with the bids and the results of the referendum. There will also likely be a discussion next year about placing the collection fees for those who get garbage service onto property tax bills along with the existing solid waste assessment fee.
That move is thought to be a cost-savings issue because haulers won't have to run a billing system. There has also been discussion about considering fees for the use of convenience centers because every property owner in the county pays $12 per year on their solid waste assessment to keep those centers open while less than half of the people use them.
"There is a lot that has to be looked at,'' Stabins said. "As an enterprise fund, the landfill, the collection of garbage and recycling has to break even … we can't run in a deficit.''
Stabins said the county bears some of the blame on what happened with the vote. He said officials should have started earlier and provided more information about the potential benefits of the program. It also didn't help that the county didn't have bid prices back to show voters the cost difference before the election.
"It was flea-bitten from the start,'' he said. "We made mistake after mistake.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.