BROOKSVILLE — For Hernando County residents who have finally fallen into a comfortable routine after a rocky start with the county's new garbage hauler last year, there could be more changes ahead.
The ideas on the drawing board, however, are mostly designed to alleviate some of the problems that Republic Services customers faced when the company took over countywide garbage collection in January 2012.
Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's director of environmental services, presented the proposed changes to the County Commission in a workshop Tuesday. The goal, she said, is to enhance service while keeping costs low for residents and the county.
Commissioners largely embraced the changes, but said they were not ready to approve details.
One of the changes would involve adjusting the boundaries for the county's mandatory garbage collection zone in Spring Hill.
When Republic began serving the entire county, one of the things it found was that in the more than two decades since mandatory collections were established in parts of Spring Hill, subdivisions have grown, leaving some residents outside the mandatory zone.
Goebel-Canning said the county plans to look at those boundaries and adjust them to include entire communities in the zone.
And for the mandatory customers, the current billing system may end, with the cost being placed on property owners' tax bills, much like the solid waste assessment to fund the landfill operation.
Commissioners also talked about offering that option to customers in the rest of the county. Commissioner Diane Rowden suggested that residents who would rather pay a traditional bill could opt out of the plan.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he would rather see customers outside the mandatory zone opt in rather than out of the new billing system.
By placing the cost on tax bills, and eliminating questions about whether people have paid their bills to Republic, collection workers in the mandatory zone would know they could pick up everyone's trash and not have to check lists.
That would make neighborhoods look better and reduce customer complaints, illegal burning and dumping, and costs, Goebel-Canning said.
Customers have also had issues with the every-other-week yard waste pickup schedule, and the county is considering switching to weekly pickups.
Goebel-Canning noted that, at certain times of the year, homeowners generate more yard waste than the limited collection can handle. There has also been confusion on the part of some residents over which week their yard waste was to be picked up.
While once-a-week service would cost more, Goebel-Canning said that with Republic saving money by not having to bill some customers, yard-waste pickup could be could be expanded with no additional cost.
Goebel-Canning said that the last change proposed is to move to what is known as single-stream recycling. Unlike the current system, where customers separate paper and cardboard from plastic and aluminum, single-stream recycling allows people to put all of their recyclable items into one rolling bin with a lid.
Switching would require some changes and the purchase of $1 million worth of bins, said Goebel-Canning and Scott Harper, the county's solid waste services manager.
One proposal would be to partner with the current recycling provider, SP Fiber Technologies, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, to replace baling equipment at the recycling center. In return, the county could extend the company's five-year-contract, which ends in early 2015, for another five years.
Rowden, who worked for Republic Services for several months last year prior to election to the commission, suggested that the county might consider bidding out the recycling contract and noted that she doesn't believe the equipment needs to be replaced. Republic Services has also expressed interest in providing single-stream recycling.
During her time with Republic, Rowden visited communities and talked with residents about garbage collection. She said she found that there was a strong interest in single-stream recycling because of its convenience.
Part of the implementation of any changes in recycling will be to educate the public about the benefits, including the possibility of lowering costs by extending the life of the county's landfill, Goebel-Canning said.
She promised to bring the commission details of how each of the proposed changes can be accomplished so commissioners can consider options.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.