Talking ‘trash’

Published 8:26 am Thursday, October 24, 2013

MERRY HILL – They’re still talking trash.

Several citizens, including quite a few who spoke at the Oct. 10 public hearing at the Windsor Courthouse, were back before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners here Monday night voicing their concerns over the proposed curbside public waste/recycling program.

Maybe twice is nice.

Rev. James Clemons of Merry Hill, who spoke at the first public hearing, inquired as to how the annual $124.80 fee would be assessed based on property ownership; even calling the fee “a tax” before Chairman Perry interjected.

“It’s not called a tax across the board,” said Perry. “This is a service fee. It’s collected like a tax, but this is a service fee.”

When challenged over how those citizens who own multiple properties – including those that were unoccupied – would pay the assessment, Perry again tried to make clear the process.

“If it’s unoccupied property you won’t have to pay any fee,” Perry said.

Commissioners John Trent and Ron Wesson informed Clemons that the county tax department would determine which properties would be assessed; but Clemons remained skeptical.

Betty Mizelle of Greens Cross was among those who voiced concerns about the elderly and those with limited mobility moving the large private containers.

“They’re going to get hurt,” Mizelle said. “Some are going to get broke up and you know what that means: you’re going to a home. And a lot of you that’re well and able, you try picking up those heavy bags and pulling that container out to the road. It’s something to think about.”

“It doesn’t make good sense to do what’s being proposed when there’s a system in place what works,” said Terry Pratt to the applause of the assembled crowd of about sixty.

“We do listen,” said Commissioner Wesson. “We haven’t voted but facts do mean something. Seniors who are not able to bring their cans to the road – and there are many of them across the county – won’t have to do that.”

Wesson emphasized that both vendors the county is considering: Waste Industries (which operates the convenience sites) and Republic (which owns the regional landfill near Aulander) will offer pick-up for any elderly residents who live within 300 feet of the highway.

“They (the collectors) will come to your house and pick (the roll-out containers) up, bring it (to the truck), and take it back,” Wesson said.

Wesson said other counties that have implemented the system have the same issues with safety and container placement and encouraged Bertie residents to talk to them.

“If you ask them how they like it, the overwhelming response is that they do like it,” he said. “We haven’t voted on anything, but consider it all.”

A citizen asked when the vote was scheduled and Perry said a time for the vote had not been set because there was still a lot of discussion still to be done.

Ann Perry Collins spoke and when mentioned that she had a private commercial dumpster on her property by her farm it was first said that she would be exempt from the assessment. However, the discussion later revealed there was confusion over how the assessment applied to farm property as opposed to a residence.

Commissioner Rick Harrell cleared some of the confusion by pointing out that commercial property would be exempt, but residences would not.

Wood Perry inquired about subdivisions that have dumpsters as well as whether the trash trucks would be allowed on private roads.

“I would think they wouldn’t want to continue to use a dumpster if somebody was going to come and dump it for them,” said Chairman Perry.

Some of the public comment discussion veered away from the trash debate. Commissioner Trent answered concerns about the economic development future of the county.

“There hasn’t been any real moving forward with economic development here in Bertie County for 25 years,” said Trent. “We’ve got to create competition to get wages up.

“We’ve got to pick up the phone and start calling people,” he added. “We’ve got to start telling people about Bertie County; moving in a direction we haven’t moved before with a different mind-thought than what we’ve had for the last 25 years.”

As comments continued over the trash pick-up debate, resident William Freeman inquired if anyone could opt out of the assessment. When told no, his reply elicited the loudest applause of the evening.

“Then that’s not a service fee, gentlemen. That’s a tax,” he said as he walked back to his seat to the roar of the crowd.

Several more citizens spoke, bringing the total to 18 speakers at the public hearing – all voicing opposition to curbside pick-up.

Following the commissioners’ regular business session, several speakers returned to the podium, again expressing more contention about the trash pick-up proposal.