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Hernando considers waiver for dump fees

(ran PC edition)

The Hernando County Commission studies the feasibility of not charging non-profits for garbage disposal.

Thrift stores and other non-profit groups could receive a financial break if the Hernando County Commission approves a policy that would waive their landfill disposal fees.

However, county staffers say such waivers could cause problems unless there are strict limits on what kinds of groups get the break and how often.

"I don't even have an idea of the potential number of organizations we're talking about," said Stephanie Burkhardt, the county's assistant utilities director in the waste management division. "Somebody told me there are about 200."

County commissioners began discussing the proposal Tuesday after County Commission Chairman Paul Sullivan mentioned a request from the Arc Nature Coast Inc., formerly known as Hernando Arc. The group, which serves residents with disabilities, asked the county to waive the $56-per-ton disposal fee so it could get rid of furniture and other household goods that its clients could not use.

"Oftentimes with donations of this kind, some items are good and some are not," Arc Nature Coast executive director Mark Barry wrote to the commission in a Jan. 18 letter. "Over time unusable materials have come to take up a majority of storage space that the Arc Nature Coast has for these donations."

Barry said Friday that he does not expect his group will use the landfill very often.

"We didn't want to make a big deal out of this," he said.

Commissioners Chris Kingsley and Pat Novy wanted to approve the agency's request, but Commissioner Nancy Robinson pointed out that the commission recently had denied similar requests from two other groups.

"They are all worthwhile groups," she said. "We could have a long-term, better approach."

Commissioners rejected the Arc Nature Coast request. They then agreed to have county staffers examine the effect of a policy that would be fair to all charitable groups. Suggestions ranged from a once-only waiver to Novy's proposal that would let groups waive landfill fees twice a year.

Commissioner Bobbi Mills seemed cool to the whole idea.

"We already give money to charities," she said.

Kingsley said he wanted to make sure non-profit agencies were consulted about their needs before any policy is considered.

It now costs such groups $56 a ton for regular garbage and furniture and $20 for each ton of construction and demolition debris and yard trash.

Last year, the county allocated $80,000 to non-profit agencies, with the United Way administering the application process.

Commission Chairman Sullivan said he supports the idea of a waiver but not twice a year.

"That's a little bit much," he said. "We're talking about a lot of groups."

Burkhardt said that because the landfill's sole means of support comes from fees paid by residents and businesses, any waivers should be considered carefully.

"If you're going to have a waiver, you have to quantify it. Otherwise there's the potential for getting yourself in a really bad spot for a large amount of fees being waived," she said.

She added that such a policy might encourage charities to be less discriminating in what donations they accept and might prompt people to get rid of more unsellable items because they know the charity will be able to dispose of them for free.

"If they wanted to do some sweeping thing, they could do it, but we've definitely got to set some limits because at some point somebody's going to take advantage of it," Burkhardt said.

Richard Silvani, director of PetLuv, a non-profit spay/neuter clinic and thrift store, said he thinks all fees should stay in place because landfill space is valuable.

He said only larger agencies have a lot to dispose of in the landfill, and the fees are not too expensive for them.

"It's not going to make or break them," he said. "I think those controls are better left in place."