BROOKSVILLE — With trash hauler franchise agreements set to expire this year and the new landfill cell expected to open in late summer, utilities director Joe Stapf thinks Hernando County is at a crossroads.
At the County Commission's recent goal-setting session, his top issue for this year was to determine what garbage hauling here will look like in the future. Still in play are topics such as mandatory garbage collection, changes in the way haulers bill for their services and changes in the zones where haulers operate.
Stapf thinks he has a way to buy time to settle the various issues while also cutting costs and asking residents what they want to see happen with their trash collection.
Last year, he proposed extending the franchise agreements with the three companies now hauling trash in the county for one more year. He also asked them to agree to a change in the agreement that would cut one hour of operation per day at the landfill. That reduction from the present 9 1/2 hours, six days a week would cut some operational costs, he said.
Stapf also pitched a change in the recycling plan for Waste Management, the hauler serving the area of Spring Hill with recycling service. His suggestion was to switch from weekly to biweekly service, cutting the subsidy paid by the county from $1.26 to 31 cents per customer.
Two of the three haulers have said in writing they like the changes; the third, Waste Management, has informally agreed.
If all three formally approve the extension, Stapf said the county would gain time to settle the major issues remaining.
Knowing that there will be public interest in whatever the county decides, Stapf said he would like to see some sort of "advisory vote'' by Hernando residents, possibly on the November ballot.
That can't happen without the extension, however, because the franchise agreements expire at the end of September.
There is precedent for such an outreach. Hernando residents voted in 1986 and in 1992 on their preferences for garbage collecting, with the first vote establishing and the second keeping mandatory garbage collection in part of Spring Hill and voluntary trash hauling through the rest of the county, Stapf said.
Stapf and his department could use the extra time because they are facing the challenge of getting the new landfill cell built and operational in the next few months. The county is expected to run out of room in the existing cell in August, while the new cell is supposed to be open Aug. 1.
"We're walking a tightrope,'' Stapf acknowledged.
Once the landfill expansion is open, he said he would better be able to access how much the operation really costs rather than just continue using estimates.
Hernando property owners pay for the operation of the landfill through the $63 solid waste assessment on their annual tax bill. Those who have their garbage picked up pay a separate bill to the hauler.
But in discussion with haulers, several ideas have surfaced. One would be to include the pickup cost in the solid waste assessment on the tax bill, boosting the assessment from $63 to about $195 a year.
Stapf said the argument for that is that haulers could pass along the savings from not having to send out monthly or quarterly bills along to customers. But Stapf said that would be hard to prove.
A similar discussion in 1993 was not popular with Spring Hill customers and the County Commission at that time voted down an idea to create a special garbage tax district.
Changing the geographic districts for franchises is another topic for discussion, Stapf said since the development patterns of the county have changed in recent years.
The haulers have also talked about longer extensions in their agreements, a single hauler for the whole county or even the possibility of making trash collection mandatory countywide.
Stapf said the direct impact those decisions would have on area residents is why the public needs the time and opportunity to weigh in on the issues.
"I cannot believe that every Hernando County resident will be happy with a one-size-fits-all,'' Stapf said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.