County exempts cities from fee hike
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington County Council convened a special meeting June 29 to discuss a proposed new fee schedule that would have charged municipalities $38.50 per ton to dump residents’ yard debris at the county landfill.
City managers, elected officials, and department heads from Darlington and Hartsville attended the meeting with the intent of asking council to reconsider the fee, as it would cost those municipalities $130,000 and $160,000 a year, respectively. This would have increased sanitation costs by $3.30 a month for Darlington residents and $4 per month for citizens of Hartsville. All county residents, including those who live in Hartsville and Darlington, already pay a $53 annual solid waste fee which is included on property tax bills.
Also, both cities had already finalized their own budgets for fiscal year 2015/16 and had no specific advance warning about this new fee, so were unable to plan for the additional expense.
Once discussion began, council member David Coker immediately asked to amend the fee ordinance, No. 15-20, to exclude Hartsville and Darlington from the new yard debris disposal fee. He received vocal support from vice chair Robbin Brock and council member Dannie Douglas.
“It’s been brought to my attention that the municipalities weren’t aware of this yard debris (fee), and I think we need to look at this fee structure and eliminate that, if at all possible,” said Coker.
“We ought to drop that $38.50 because they’re already paying county taxes, and all the cities are doing is just hauling it,” said Douglas, referring to the fact that Darlington County residents can bring yard debris to any county convenience center for disposal, but the county must still truck the debris to the landfill.
During the discussion, Environmental Services director Renee Howle said that some counties do charge citizens higher solid waste fees, noting that Florence County charges $99 a year. She explained that paying for her department’s needs, such as heavy equipment repair and replacement, and the rising cost of electronics disposal (e-waste), has become very difficult as sources of revenue shrink.
In the last few years, Environmental Services lost significant income from recycling sales (after switching to single stream collection instead of selling commodity recyclables) and from the sale of the county’s proprietary yellow bags.
Council member Wilhelmina Johnson observed that Environmental Services had sufficient operating funds when the county sold its own yellow garbage bags, which served as a sort of use tax for solid waste disposal. Darlington County ended its yellow bag program in 2011, and subsequently raised its annual solid waste fee from $35 to $47 to make up for losing $290,000 in annual yellow bag sales. That solid waste fee has been raised twice more, and now stands at $53 a year.
All council members present, including Brock, Coker, Douglas, Johnson, and chair Bobby Hudson voted in favor of amending Ordinance 15-20 to exempt municipalities and SCDOT from the new yard debris disposal fee. The fee change still applies to other intergovernmental agencies, including school districts and water and sewer authorities.
Hudson said that this ordinance – like everything else in the county’s 2015/16 budget – can be reviewed, and could be revisited in three to six months.
County administrator Terence Arrington noted that the county’s budget would now require revision to remove projected revenue from the yard debris fee. He also suggested council might benefit from a field trip to the landfill to observe firsthand the needs of the Environmental Services department.
Ordinance 15-20 was introduced at Darlington County Council’s June 1 meeting. The ordinance passed second reading on June 15, and is scheduled for third and final reading on July 6.
Darlington County Council will hold a regular meeting July 6 at 6 pm at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.