BROOKSVILLE — For Spring Hill residents unhappy that their curbside recycling pickups were slashed from once a week to once every other week, county commissioners have pitched a potential solution.
However, Spring Hill residents in that same mandatory pickup zone who like having their garbage picked up twice a week might not agree to the plan.
Commissioners this week proposed to a Waste Management official the idea of switching to once-a-week garbage pickup and once-a-week recycling pickup in the mandatory zone.
Whether that deal can be worked out for the same or a lesser cost is unclear. But the service would mirror an idea the county is contemplating for garbage collection and curbside recycling as hauling contracts expire in 2011.
Commissioners expressed interest in a plan proposed by utilities director Joe Stapf to put a nonbinding referendum on the November ballot asking all Hernando residents, excluding those in Brooksville, whether they want to keep garbage collection as it is — mandatory in certain portions of Spring Hill and voluntary elsewhere — or change to a mandatory system, but only in areas of the county where voters say they want it.
The other proposed change was to move the cost of garbage pickup, which residents now pay as they are billed, to property tax bills, along with the $63.05 annual solid waste assessment everyone pays. That assessment could increase for areas of the county that do not want mandatory pickups to help pay for the convenience centers those residents use.
Stapf explained that the first order of business would be to seek bids from haulers to do what those in the industry describe as the ideal: once-a-week garbage service, once-a-week-recycling and once-a-week yard debris pickup. The requests must go out by the end of July to stay on the planned time line.
The haulers would use an automated system in which special trucks would collect from special trash and recycling bins, Stapf explained.
Once the bids were received, voters considering the referendum would know the cost up front. Stapf said it would likely be cheaper for people who currently get their garbage picked up because the companies would no longer have the expense of billing customers.
Another incentive the county could consider is a program implemented in some places called a "recycle bank,'' in which residents earn coupons for local businesses based on how much recycling they do.
By arranging new service zones by voting precincts, after the vote the county can analyze which areas want the universal service and which don't and then make decisions on where it will be set up.
"We're going to get a picture of the views precinct by precinct from Istachatta to Aripeka,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. "I think that's exciting.''
Commissioner Rose Rocco said many people like having the opportunity to recycle and that the referendum would allow residents to voice their opinions on the topic.
Commissioner Dave Russell said the key would be to make sure the ballot question is posed concisely. He also said that it would be good to offer the recycling option because recycling has benefits.
One of those, Stapf explained, is that it would prolong the life of the new landfill cell the county hopes to open later this summer. That cell, costing $9.5 million, was expected to last 15 years, but high levels of recycling could add another eight or nine years to its lifespan, Stapf said.
Several local haulers expressed some concern about the bidding process, including a question about how haulers would be able to give their best price when they weren't sure which areas they would serve. Someone also suggested that requiring an automated system with special trash bins could knock smaller haulers out of contention.
Stabins said the wording on the bid requests from haulers needs to be clear and concise.
While commissioners could not vote to approve the plan Tuesday since they were meeting in a workshop, by consensus they told Stapf to begin the process he described and asked him to talk to Waste Management about changing the Spring Hill service in the short term.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.