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Waiving fee for charities is unfair

One person's junk may be another person's treasure, but their fates are inescapable. Eventually they both wind up in a landfill; the only relevant question is when.

Some non-profit groups in the county have appealed to the Hernando County Commission to assist in determining not only when, but how, to dispose of items they no longer need.

The most recent request came from Arc Nature Coast Inc., formerly known as the Hernando Association of Retarded Citizens. The group wants the commission to waive the landfill fees it is now charged for dumping old furniture and household goods, usually donated by well-intentioned residents.

It is understandable that such groups would want to avoid the fees. It costs $56 per ton for regular garbage and $20 per ton for construction/demolition debris and yard trash. That can add up for groups like Arc and DayStar Hope Center, which probably collects more donations than any other non-profit charity organization in the county. And, considering the valuable service those and similar organizations extend to some of the county's neediest residents, it must be tempting for the commissioners to simply grant the request.

However, the commissioners should resist that inclination because it is not fair to pick and choose which non-profits should receive the benefit, and which must carry the burden of paying the landfill fees.

Two years ago the commission set a precedent on how it would assist non-profit agencies. Instead of helping all, or selecting a few, it abdicated the responsibility to a single agency, the United Way of Hernando County. United Way, with the help of a committee, then decided to whom the money should be distributed. The landfill fee debate is very similar, although it would be impractical to hand that selection duty to a third party such as United Way.

Moreover, landfill space is valuable, and because the operation is funded by fees, every time a fee is waived the loss must be absorbed elsewhere in the budget.

As commissioners and their staff form a policy on how to respond to such requests, they should discuss the possibility of setting aside a day or weekend once per year for all properly credentialed, non-profit agencies to use the landfill at no cost.

That should provide the non-profit agencies a tangible savings, as well as force them to be more discriminating about the donations they accept. Residents should not misuse the charitable groups to be dumping grounds for rubbish. Of course, the non-profits all welcome the donation of usuable used items. But when storage space or landfill fee costs are in short supply, it is essential for the receiving agency's representatives to recognize junk as what it is, and direct the donors to the landfill.

Everyone creates garbage, and it is everyone's responsibility to dispose of it properly. Any person or group that cannot afford to fulfill that obligation should re-examine their spending priorities.