June 14, 2011

Elimination of curbside trash collection on Ocracoke postponed to January

Ocracoke residents received a reprieve June 10 from taking their trash to the convenience site starting July 1—the height of the tourist season—when Hyde County Manager Mazie Smith announced that the plan to discontinue curbside trash pick-up on Ocracoke has been postponed until Jan.1.

The commissioners, on May 2, had voted unanimously to discontinue curbside trash pick-up throughout the county as of July 1 and require residents to take their own trash to six convenience sites, for a savings of about $400,000 per year to the county.

While islanders were pleased with the postponement, many are not pleased with how the county operates in regard to Ocracoke.

“Tourism drives our economy and funds the coffers of Hyde County,” Daphne Bennink, a realtor and owner of The Back Porch restaurant, said about the plan to make this trash change in the middle of the tourist season. “What a shame that the county doesn’t give any thought to the challenging needs our seasonal economy presents.”

Jennifer Esham, who owns Blue Heron Realty, a vacation home rental company, had scrambled to create her own complicated plan of charging rental property owners to pick up their trash.  That plan will be shelved until January.

“But homeowners liked the idea of paying me instead of Hyde County,” she said.

Hyde County Public Works Director Clint Berry on May 2 presented a scenario for the county to eliminate the monthly fee and levy a tax increase of up to eight cents per $100 property valuation.

Property owners whose places are valued at $500,000 or lower would pay about $400 per year, for trash while the monthly residential fee of $35 totaled $420 per year.

However, people with higher property values would pay much more under the new plan, as a property valued at $1 million would pay $800 per year for trash.

Gael Hawkins, who owns several island properties, called the new system “stupid,” and thinks the flat rate was the most equitable.

“I think it’s unfair to base the trash rate on property values,” added Norma Sigal, another property owner.

Bennink questioned the fairness of assessing both residences and businesses at the same rate.

“You can walk around to all the businesses on the island in one day,” she said. “How hard is it to put businesses on a scale rate?”

Several factors led to the postponement of the new system, Smith said.

One of the reasons is that the electrical construction by Tideland Electric would not have been finished by July 1 when the new system was to begin.

Smith said that Dare County has agreed to extend their contract to pick-up trash for six months at the same rate as the current contract, due to expire June 30, and with the same employees.

That means that three Ocracoke trash workers who are contracted by Dare County will retain their jobs for the time being.

“We realized it wasn’t fair to the guys working for them to lose their jobs before the July 4 holiday,” Smith said.

The extension of their jobs for six months gives them and everyone on the island more time to prepare for the new system, she said.

“This is a good compromise for them,” Smith said. “We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Smith added that, as for the budget, “nothing is carved in stone until it is passed,” which will be by June 30.  The new fiscal year begins July 1.

A few days before the latest change, Monroe Gaskins, one of the three contracted by Dare County who has been picking up trash on the island for decades, was one of several Ocracokers who attended the county commissioners meeting June 6 and spoke at a hearing on the new trash system.

Gaskins lashed out at the commissioners, calling them “jerks,” and saying, “This will come back to bite you.”

Other Ocracoke residents spoke that night about their concerns.

Fred Westervelt, who owns The Cove B&B, was concerned about the timing and the expenditures to prepare seven convenience sites with trash compactors.

“Your timing is appalling, considering that July 1 is the height of the tourist season,” he said.
“You’re spending half a million in fixed, non-changeable fixtures. I hope this is the last (trash plan).”

B. J. Oelschlegel, a local Realtor, posed the question, “If you’re going to save money by reducing services and raising taxes, we need to hear how.”

Commission chairman Sharon Spencer responded that the county must absorb the construction of the Ocracoke School gym into the budget.

“Cutting trash will do less harm than cutting other services,” she said.

Bob Hayes, an hotelier in Engelhard, said he has a dumpster and does not want the system to change.

Berry’s plan called for the elimination of dumpsters, since all trash would have to be taken to the convenience sites.

Other Ocracoke residents cited concerns about the fairness of taxing properties, the lack of fairness to the three men who will lose their jobs, the amount of traffic going into the convenience site, possible runoff and construction affecting adjacent properties.

Before the hearing on trash, Smith presented her budget plan, noting that “operations must become proactive rather than reactive.”

Of the 613 square miles of land in Hyde, 40 percent is owned by entities that don’t pay tax.

“This puts the burden on a small number of taxpayers,” she said.

Changes at the state level, the rise in gas prices, and the lingering bad economy also have forced local governments to change how they do business.

Merit pay raises will supplant automatic pay raises, she said, the Hyde County schools will be funded at the same level as last year at $1.7 million.

While Smith proposed a budget of $14.8 million June 6, that number has changed since she decided to postpone the curbside elimination.

As of Tuesday, June 14, Smith’s proposed budget is $15.8 million or a savings of $441,441 over last year.
The rise in the budget is due to the postponement of the proposed new trash collection system, which is expected to yield savings to the county because of more efficient hauling and more recycling.

Berry stressed that property tax bills can be written off one’s federal taxes.

In other business, the commissioners further discussed a noise ordinance and hope to have it enacted at the June 20 meeting.

Keith Parker-Lowe of Ocracoke was appointed chairman of the ABC Store Committee.  He reported that the changes in operations he’s made in the last few months have made the stores more prepared for the influx of seasonal shoppers.

Brian Schmidt of Engelhard also was appointed to the ABC board.

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.