Ashe County Commissioners adopted their Solid Waste Management Plan on July 2, a document established in 1997, and updated every three years since.
The board also decided not to add a quarter cent sales tax referendum to the November ballot that could have raised $500,000 yearly for Ashe County Schools.
The Solid Waste Management Plan outlines the county’s attempts to reduce the amount of solid waste entering the county’s landfill.
Like most NC counties, Ashe has not been able to reach the statewide goal of 40 percent reduction in the amount of waste placed into landfills from 1991 levels, and blames the failure on, “various national trends, waste economics, and general societal characteristics,” according to the updated plan.
The per capita disposal rate has decreased by 25 percent, and the county has achieved some reductions below the 1991 per capita baseline, according to the plan.
Residential waste makes up 60 percent of Ashe County’s waste stream, followed by commercial waste at 27 percent, industrial waste at eight percent, and construction and demolition waste at five percent.
The rural nature of Ashe County makes solid waste reduction more difficult as the county does not have, “a sufficient number of businesses and industries to effectively promote waste exchanges, financial incentives, and other programs that would result in significant waste reduction.”
Per capita waste disposal figures are also skewed higher by seasonal residents, who contribute significantly to the county’s solid waste stream, though they are not counted in official county population figures, “resulting in an unusually high per capita solid waste disposal rate.”
The plan looks at Baldwin and Bare Creek convenience centers, and the volume of waste disposed which “varies considerably between summer and winter due to the large populations of second home residents near those sites,” as an example.
In 2010-2011, the Ashe County Department of Environmental Services collected $1,223,025 in tipping fees, $363,198 in commercial tipping fees, $212,560 in recycling revenue, $39,215 in scrap tire and white good reimbursements, $3,059 in interest, $6,000 in contributions from other government units, and $465,884 designated as “other,” for a total of $2,275,170 in revenue.
The department spent $945,858 in salaries, $1,231,481 in operating expenses, and $97,831 for debt service for total expenditures of $2,275,170.
79 percent of county residents actively use the drop-off recycling program, which earned the county $191,838 in 2010-2011.
The program accepts brown, clear, and green glass, number one through number seven plastics, single ply cardboard, corrugated cardboard, newsprint, aluminum cans, steel cans, and used oil and oil filters. In 2010-2011, Ashe County collected 105.65 tons of plastic, 271.19 tons of newspaper, 50.04 tons of clear glass, 36.85 tons of brown glass, 39.97 tons of green glass, 429.28 tons of cardboard, 11.04 tons of aluminum cans, and 465.67 tons of white goods.
“The next generation of adults will be more conscientious concerning waste disposal,” read the plan. “The possible opening of two additional convenience centers will make recycling opportunities more accessible for at least a portion of the county’s population.”
Since 1992, Ashe County has owned and operated a subtitle D lined landfill. Based on current regulations and disposal rates, and allowing for expansion every five to seven years, the 220 acre landfill should remain in operation through 2032, according to the plan.
Solid waste personnel “see the need,” for two additional convenience centers in southern Ashe County within the next 10 years.
“The Baldwin convenience center is heavily used, and additional growth in the vicinity would necessitate more collection sites,” read the plan.
Quarter cent sales tax failure
During their 2 p.m. worksession on July 2, commissioners discussed and ultimately rejected, placing a referendum on the November ballot that would have allowed voters the opportunity to pass a quarter cent sales tax that could have raised $500,000 each year for education.
Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell said the sales tax idea had been proposed during a budget worksession in June, but told commissioners time constraints meant they would have to decide at the July 2 meeting.
“We discussed the potential of putting a quarter cent sales tax on the November ballot, which we are allowed to do, and earmark that money for education,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell said the wording on the ballot would not state the quarter cent tax would be strictly for education.
“That would be a policy decision as you promoted the sales tax,” said Mitchell. “Obviously, any future board could come in and change that policy designation.”
Mitchell said the Director of the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College, Chris Robinson, had indicated he would “do everything (he) could to help pass the tax,” but said Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Dr. Travis Reeves told her the school system would not help promote the tax.
“In meeting with the superintendent, all he would say is that he had met with his board, and the board felt they needed to remain neutral,” said Mitchell.
“My problem is the school board won’t support it,” said Commissioner Judy Poe. “I agree that a sales tax would be more fair for everybody, but they’re not going to support it.”
Commissioner William Sands said passing the sales tax would make it hard to further raise taxes in the future to support education.
“One of these years, we’re going to have to have a tax increase,” said Sands. “There’s no doubt about it. And people will go back to this (sales tax) and say, ‘Hey, you just asked for this sales tax increase for the schools.”
Commissioner Gary Roark said the referendum would allow county voters to voice their opinion on the school funding issue.
“You’re giving them a choice to vote the option down,” said Roark. “Either way, you mention taxes and people are going to frown, but somewhere the money is going to have to come to keep the schools funded, whether we give it out of the county, or whether we raise taxes. Either way we go about it, the schools can’t continue to operate on what they’ve been operating on.”