Cabell commissioners wrong about recycling levy, state official says
HUNTINGTON - A proposed recycling levy in Cabell County could be up for a vote once again after a state official confirmed Friday that the Cabell County Commission misinterpreted a state law that was used to reject the levy at a commission meeting Thursday.
According to the law, which was passed in the early 1990s, the process for establishing a county recycling program begins with a petition from a number of registered voters requesting that the issue be placed on an upcoming ballot.
After reading through the law for the first time Thursday, Cabell County’s attorney, Bill Watson, said that based on his interpretation of the law, the county could not vote on a recycling levy until first placing the question of whether to have a recycling program on the ballot.
Carol Throckmorton, environmental resource specialist III with the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board, said that is not the case.
“I can understand how (the law) was misinterpreted, but they are two separate activities,” she said. “The levy is one thing ... (the law) is something that is driven by the citizens. ... (The law) is a referendum process that has nothing to do with a levy.”
Throckmorton said the process outlined in the law is meant to serve as a tool for citizens to force the county into implementing a recycling program.
Throckmorton, who has been with the state’s Solid Waste Management Board for 20 years, said only one county, Hampshire County, has successfully gone through the process outlined in state code for the implementation of a county recycling program.
Throckmorton said that program was led by a petition filed by a local environmental group.
She added that had the commission approved the recycling levy Thursday, they would not have acted improperly.
“That’s what I was trying to say yesterday when all of a sudden that thing popped up,” Commission President Bob Bailey told The Herald-Dispatch on Friday. ”(The law) has no bearing on (the levy), and I tried to tell them that, but they don’t listen to me.”
Bailey was the only commissioner to vote in favor of the recycling levy. He was also the only commissioner in favor of the levy two years ago when it was first brought to the commission but ultimately failed.
Had it passed Thursday, the recycling levy would have been placed on the upcoming general election ballot. The funds would go toward the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority’s recycling program, which has experienced many setbacks over the years.
The recycling levy proposed would cost most households roughly $3 each year and generate a total of $300,000 annually in order to create two additional drop-off sites in the county similar to what the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority has now in the West End.
The funds would also be used to pay employees to maintain the sites and the program as well as support recycling efforts of municipalities within Cabell County.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Bailey said the commission reached out to an attorney more familiar with this law. Should that attorney’s interpretation of the law match Throckmorton’s, Bailey said he will call a special meeting next week to revote on the recycling levy.
“We need to recycle so bad,” he said. “There is just so much waste and plastic going into the landfills and going in the rivers and oceans and streams. It’s terrible. We just need to do something. We’ve got to do something.”
A special meeting would be necessary to vote on the levy in order to meet a deadline to get the issue on the upcoming ballot. That deadline is Aug. 20. The County Commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting wouldn’t be until Aug. 23.
Mark Buchanan, director of the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority, said he hopes the commission will reconsider its position on the levy in light of the new information.
“I am of the mindset that some people are going to recycle and some people are not, but it should be up to the citizens to decide whether or not to pass the recycling levy,” he said. “I think we owe it to them to give them that choice.”
Commissioner Jim Morgan will likely cast the deciding vote on whether the recycling levy makes it on the ballot in November as Commissioner Nancy Cartmill has repeatedly opposed the levy and Bailey has never wavered in his support.
Cartmill said she opposed the recycling levy because it would use the remainder of the county’s levying authority, which might be needed to fund essential services such as EMS, 911 or new voting machines.
During Thursday’s commission meeting, Morgan said it was his intention to vote yes for the recycling levy, but he shifted his vote after hearing from the attorney.
“I didn’t want to put something on a ballot that would lead to a court case. I wanted to do it correctly,” Morgan said.
After being contacted Friday by The Herald-Dispatch regarding the commission’s likely misinterpretation of the law, Morgan would not give a definite answer as to whether he would vote in favor of the recycling levy should it be brought back next week during a special meeting.
Morgan said there were still other questions raised at the meeting that have been left unanswered, including where the two additional drop-off sites will be located and how much it will cost to purchase the land and get the program up and running.
Despite those questions, Morgan said, “the basic concept of recycling is still something I am in favor of.”
He added that he would like municipalities to be part of this discussion and aid financially if possible.
When the Solid Waste Authority started the recycling program in 2011, Cabell County as well as Huntington, Barboursville and Milton each contributed financially. Over the years, the cities and county pulled back their funding, citing financial difficulties of their own. Funding from all municipalities ceased at the end of 2016, though Barboursville does operate its own recycling drop-off location.
While the Solid Waste Authority does operate a recycling program in Huntington, according to the same state statute referenced by commissioners, Huntington - and any other city with more than 10,000 residents - is required to have a recycling program. However, there is no penalty for cities that don’t comply.
Throckmorton said there are 14 municipalities in West Virginia that have more than 10,000 residents, including Beckley, Charleston, Morgantown and St. Albans.
She added that Huntington is the only one of those 14 municipalities without a recycling program.
In a statement Thursday, the city described the law as an “unfunded mandate” that was “not the most effective way to address issues at the municipal level.”
Huntington is working on implementing a pilot curbside recycling program that could be rolled out as early as this fall.