Talking trash on
akin to ‘wading into quicksand’
When you start talking about trash on Ocracoke Island, “you’re wading
into quicksand,” noted one island business person.
But that subject will come up again in several months when the Hyde
County Board of Commissioners determine whether to retain the current
fee-based plan, which is up for renewal in October.
And while the saga of trash disposal on Ocracoke is quiet for the
moment, some feelings on the island remain hurt following the sudden
demise in June of the year-old Pay-As-You-Throw program (PAYT), which
charged according to the trash one generated.
Trash disposal on Ocracoke has been tumultuous for the last few years
as the community wrestled with how to deal with it.
“We’ve gone full circle and a half on this,” noted Commissioner Darlene
Styron of Ocracoke, adding that with any system there are some people
who will be unhappy. “I really don’t know what the answer is.”
Because of the political nature of the trash situation, several large
and small business-owners and residents interviewed did not want to
talk on the record.
Those who are for PAYT say the current system is unfair to people on
low and fixed incomes, and that rental houses should be charged the
Currently, Hyde County residents and businesses pay a flat, monthly fee
that was approved in June after a hue-and-cry about the PAYT plan,
which was begun in 2009.
According to a notice on the county website, www.hydecountync.gov, the
Ocracoke large business: $100 per month
Ocracoke small business: $50 per month
Ocracoke residential: $35 per month
Ocracoke dumpster fee: $140 per tip
Mainland small business: $40
Mainland residential: $25
Fees to dump construction and demolition (C & D) debris are
According the commissioners’ meeting minutes posted online, large
businesses include restaurants with seating capacities of 55 or more,
campgrounds that have 25 hook-ups, motels and hotels that have 10 or
more rooms, and any large grocery/convenience store.
Interim County Manager David M. Smitherman said nine businesses on
Ocracoke fall into the “large” category.
Those businesses are: Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet, Ocracoke Coffee Co., The
Boyette House, The Anchorage Inn, The Pony Island Inn, Blackbeard’s
Lodge, Howard’s Pub, Creekside Café and the Ocracoke Variety Store.
Fees are higher for Ocracoke residents than on the mainland because
Ocracoke trash gets picked up twice a week while the mainland gets
picked up once a week.
Styron, who replaced Gene Ballance on the county commission in May,
noted that she had asked Utilities Director Clint Berry why there was a
difference in what islanders pay vs. mainlanders, and he told her that
even with a twice-per-week pick-up on Ocracoke, the cost of that
pick-up on both sides was about the same. Styron in June voted against
the fee schedule.
With the fee-based system, some residents feel they are subsidizing
businesses and rental properties.
Yet, those same businesses and rental properties are drawing tourists
to the island, and those revenues benefit the entire island and
probably outweigh whatever break they may be getting in the way of
trash fees, notes Donna Drilling, a realtor with Ocracoke Island Realty.
She understands the theory of PAYT, but believes it doesn’t work for
“Because we’re so reliant on tourists, it’s just not practical for
Ocracoke,” she said. “I was not for PAYT because I look at the big
picture. To try to figure out what everyone uses is difficult.”
The PAYT plan was in place for about a year--from 2009 to June of
2010--but it took a community committee several years of research and a
previous attempt at PAYT before it was implemented.
Some on the island say the PAYT was doomed from the start, noting that
it was instituted at the height of the tourist season, without any
community education and little management by the county. Moreover, one
business person said the county didn’t use the plan the committee had
Former county commissioner Gene Ballance, who resigned in May and who
was part of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee that proposed the PAYT,
noted that he voted against the fee-based system.
“Certain people are benefiting from the flat rate system,” he said.
“They yelled the loudest and the commissioners listened. They wanted to
keep Ocracoke quiet.”
Ballance said the PAYT was going well until some people complained
about others not playing by the rules in various ways.
Trying to get rental property tenants -- let alone permanent
residents--to adhere to the PAYT system proved difficult.
Drilling noted that abuses with the PAYT were occurring where people
would dump their trash in others’ cans in the dead of night, and she
had noticed mattresses dumped alongside the road.
The complaints could have been addressed managerially, Ballance said.
“We tried (PAYT) two times,” he said. “It will be difficult to get them
to do it again.”
Both Smitherman and Styron said the reason the PAYT system was changed
was because the county had done a poor job of estimating revenues for
“After several months, it was apparent that the new system
not generate the necessary revenue to keep the service solvent,”
Styron also disagrees with eliminating the C&D fee.
“I think you should have to pay something for C&D,” she said,
adding that with the previous system, there were too many discrepancies
in charges for the variety of C&D waste.
According to Smitherman, C&D is 15 percent of the mainland
stream and 40 percent of Ocracoke’s.
Although Smitherman was not the manager when the current plan was
debated, he said that in his experience, these types of fees are
sometimes eliminated to encourage proper disposal and to discourage
illegal dump sites.
As for revenues, the fiscal year 2011 solid waste revenue projections
for Hyde County are as follows:
residential collection: $398,000
large business collection: $28,800
small business collection: $30,000
residential collection: $596,000
commercial collection: $16,800
If these numbers hold true, Smitherman expects the solid waste budget
to break even.
But the county may experience some difficulty there, he noted, as the
accounts payable for trash fees on Ocracoke is currently at $29,000,
which represents 103 accounts. Trash payment arrears were not
problem last year on the island, he said.
Of those in arrears, 20 are businesses, representing approximately
$7,100, and the remainder is residential accounts.
The county will send out another request for payment then seek civil
action if necessary to collect the accounts.
Sending out monthly bills with this new system costs the county about
$4,200, Styron said.
She said she knows of people who are not paying their bill because they
don’t believe in this new system. But that is irresponsible, she said.
“You don’t not pay your bill,” she said. “That’s not being respectful
of people already paying.”
Trash was not a big issue on the island until several years ago when
the county shifted from including the trash expense as part of the tax
bill to a user-based system.
“When the trash fees were included in the taxes, it was more
uniform,” Drilling said.
Much of the frustration among some Ocracokers on this and other issues
is having its business managed by Hyde County, which is the manager for
all municipalities in the county as none are incorporated and have
their own governance.
Many on Ocracoke see this as the major problem of governance on the
island—Ocracoke is 23 miles across the Pamlico Sound away from the
county seat of Swan Quarter.
Smitherman, in a meeting at the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association
in the fall, noted, however, that the county only controls about 20
percent of the county budget. Eighty percent of the budget is mandated
by the state.