BROOKSVILLE — For months now, county utilities workers and elected officials have weathered a flood of complaints about various changes in solid waste disposal services.
Tuesday, county utilities director Joe Stapf will present what could be a solution — one that could expand the existing recycling program, if voters give their approval.
The county's existing franchise agreements with area waste haulers expire next year. But instead of waiting for that to happen, Stapf is suggesting that the county immediately seek proposals from any hauler interested in providing universal, countywide garbage collection and recycling.
Currently, only a portion of Spring Hill has mandatory garbage collection, and those residents also get curbside recycling, a service reduced recently to once every other week to save money.
Then, armed with information about what universal pickup service would cost, residents would be asked to state their preference in a nonbinding referendum in November.
Gone would be quarterly trash-hauling bills, if the vote were favorable and if commissioners decided afterward to implement universal service.
Instead, the cost of trash hauling would appear on property tax bills, combined with the $63.05 that residential property owners now pay as their "solid waste assessment" — property owners' share of running the county's solid waste and landfill operations.
The proposal was designed after a recent brainstorming session with Stapf, other county workers and Commissioner Jeff Stabins.
Stapf suggests in a memo to commissioners that the haulers he has spoken to, many of whom are interested in submitting proposals, agree that the best service to offer would be one-day-per-week trash collection, one-day-per-week pickup of yard waste and one-day-per-week recycling service.
The service would use special 96-gallon trash bins and special equipment to dump those bins.
The system, Stapf asserts, would provide residents "the most trash bang for the buck."
The changes would not affect residents and businesses inside the city of Brooksville, which provides its own service.
Time is short for the plan to be put in place if commissioners approve. Ballot language would have to be in place by Aug. 24. Bids from the haulers would have to be opened in July so that the information could be used to develop the ballot language.
Stapf suggests that for the two-thirds of county residents who hire a hauler to collect their garbage, the new system would be cheaper because the hauler would no longer have to bill individual property owners. The remaining third, those who drop their garbage at convenience centers, might perceive a cost increase.
But Stapf points out that the two-thirds who rarely use the convenience centers because they pay to have their garbage hauled away still pay the same $12 per year to run the centers that those who do use them pay. If only those who used the centers paid for them exclusively, Stapf figured they would each have to pay $50 more.
Some system that would raise the solid waste assessment, but allow a credit back for those who don't use the centers, could be devised, Stapf suggested.
In his memo to commissioners, Stapf referred to past referendums on garbage in 1986 and 1992. There was confusion over the boundaries and who was included in the mandatory area, he says, which could be cleared up by a new vote.
In addition, many new communities have been built that already have a mandatory garbage collection requirement. Some, like Silverthorn, have even asked for recycling.
Stabins said he believes Stapf's plan has merit.
"I think that the most important aspect of the referendum is that we will be able to see in current time exactly how the people in Hernando County feel about the future of garbage and recycling," he said.
The current system, he said, is a hodgepodge. The changes implemented recently, such as the reduction in recycling pickups, have flooded recycling locations like the one at Walmart on Cortez Boulevard to the point where they overflow.
The results of the referendum would allow the county to examine interest precinct by precinct across the county, so even if the measure were to pass overall, it would not necessarily mean that mandatory garbage service would be implemented countywide, Stabins said.
Some areas of east Hernando would not be accessible enough to allow the kinds of hauling equipment needed for the operation that officials are considering. And those residents might be opposed to the idea anyway.
"They'll be voting; it will be up to them," Stabins said.
"There is no downside to (the referendum)," he said. "We're going to find out what the cost will be to change the current system; we'll ask people what they want, and then we'll go from there."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.