Election day is two days away, but Hernando commissioners already are looking toward the November ballot. On Nov. 2, amid the statewide amendments governing class size, elections on land use issues and drawing legislative districts, will be an imperative local question to which Hernando voters shouldn't give short shrift. County commissioners want to know if the public is willing to overhaul its trash collection and recycling programs.
The proposed ballot language for the nonbinding referendum originally called for once-per-week trash collection, recycling and yard waste pickup "at a reduced cost.''
"Does that mean forever? Does that mean this year?'' asked Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who wisely lobbied the commission last week to excise promises on pricing. Instead, voters will be asked to weigh in on this question: "Do you favor implementing universal, automated once-per-week trash, recycling and yard waste pickup programs?''
The referendum is advisory in nature only because the commission did not have time to adopt an enacting ordinance and still meet next week's deadline to get the measure on the November ballot.
Regardless, it is an important question and an integral part of what is envisioned as an overhaul of curbside waste removal. The county will solicit new franchise bids from private haulers to use automated trucks to provide trash disposal, curbside recycling and yard waste pickup on a weekly basis.
It is expected to cut expenses for a majority of county households — hence the original ballot language proposal — while extending the life of the landfill, which is unveiling a $9.5 million expansion on Sept. 2.
The referendum and proposed overhaul is in response to a previous budget-driven decision to halve the weekly curbside recycling service in Spring Hill that sparked public criticism and a drop in participation.
The convoluted system is not working. Eighty percent of the 38,300 households in Spring Hill's curbside recycling program choose not to participate even though they're paying for it. Meanwhile, 20,000 additional homes in the county have trash collection service, but not curbside recycling. Then there are 18,000 households which have neither, but subsidize the recycling service in Spring Hill.
It is an unfair, hodgepodge approach dictated in part by previous referenda results. It needs to change. The county needs to expand its recycling. It will save space in the new landfill cell and help Hernando progress toward the statewide goal of recycling three-quarters of its trash over the next decade. The reduced costs, if realized from the franchise bids, is an added bonus.
The commission is correct to take this referendum to the voters and, as more details become available, the electorate should give serious thought to the long-term benefits of a more uniform trash and recycling program.