Commission trashes recycling levy again

August 10, 2018

A Huntington resident drops off his recycling at the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority's Recycling Center on Thursday on Virginia Avenue in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — For the second time in two years, Cabell County commissioners have voted against imposing a tax levy to fund the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority’s recycling program, citing improper protocol based on a state law more than a decade old.

The recycling levy proposed Thursday at a Cabell County Commission meeting is similar to the one that was proposed and failed in August 2016. It would have cost most households roughly $3 each year and generate a total of $300,000 annually, said Mark Buchanan, director of the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority.

While Commissioner Nancy Cartmill, the sole Republican on the commission, has been against the recycling levy since it was introduced two years ago because it would use virtually all of the county’s remaining levying authority, Commissioner Jim Morgan seemed to flip sides midway through the discussion of the recycling levy.

After saying that he intended to vote in favor of the recycling levy, which would then have been placed on the November general election ballot for the voters to decide on, Morgan, a Democrat, asked the county’s attorney Bill Watson for clarification on a state law that appeared to dictate the process a county should take when enacting a recycling program.

According to a law passed in the early 1990s, the first step in implementing a comprehensive county program is for a petition to be tiled with the county commission bearing the signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of the number of votes cast for governor within the county during the preceding gubernatorial election.

In the November 2016 general election, 33,324 people in Cabell County cast votes for governor, according to the West Virginia secretary of state’s website. This means that a petition for county recycling would need to include roughly 1,666 signatures to equal the 5 percent required in the statute.

Once the petition is complete and submitted to the county commission, the question of whether to have a county recycling program can be placed on the ballot in an upcoming election. If the majority prevails, the county will have one year to implement such a program.

Watson, who said he looked at the state statute for the first time Thursday morning, said based on his interpretation of the law, the county could not vote on a recycling levy until after it had placed the question of whether to have a recycling program on the ballot.

Watson said the Solid Waste Authority’s current recycling program, implemented in 2011, does not require a public vote on a ballot because while it is touted as a countywide program, it is not funded by the county.

“I am for recycling, but I just don’t want to get something on the ballot that would be invalid or not able to carry through with,” Morgan said prior to casting his vote against the recycling levy.

Cabell County Solid Waste Authority Board President Stephen Zoeller, who said he was familiar with the law when it was enacted, said it was his opinion that the commissioners and the attorney were interpreting the law incorrectly.

“The purpose of that legislation that was put in place was in case the county commission didn’t do anything ... and the public would have a way of getting something on the ballot (for recycling),” Zoeller said. “That is another vehicle to get something on the ballot, but it does not prohibit the county commission from putting an excess levy on the ballot.”

Commission President Bob Bailey, a Democrat, once again was the sole yes vote for the recycling levy. He said regardless of the intention of the law, he felt the measure should be put on the ballot for the public to decide whether a recycling levy is an expense they would be willing to incur.

“Fm going to cast my vote, yes, that we put it on the ballot, and if there’s anything wrong with it, then Fm sure the way the people watch the county commission they’ll take it to court before it gets on the ballot next week,” Bailey said.

Watson said he could not advocate for this approach.

According to an employee in the Cabell County clerk’s voter registration office, the commission has until Monday, Aug. 20, to place a levy on the November ballot.

Zoeller said the decision made by commissioners Thursday was disheartening.

“I was confident the commission would embrace this,” he said. “This is something we have worked for, for years to try to get a robust recycling program in Cabell County, and this is a setback.”

Zoeller said the recycling levy would have allowed the Solid Waste Authority to duplicate the recycling center it currently operates in Huntington’s West End.

The current site has gates and only users who have paid the $75 fee are allowed to enter the site and drop off their recyclables in a number of bins lining the edge of the fenced property.

Zoeller said roughly 600 people have signed up to use the program since October 2017 when the new drop-off site at 800 Virginia Ave. in Huntington was opened. He added that the fee has limited the number of participants, as indicated by the steep decline in the amount of recyclables collected.

This year, the Solid Waste Authority will recycle roughly a third of what it did when the recycling program was in full force.

In 2016, when recycling bins were still located throughout Cabell County, nearly 1,000 tons of material were recycled, according to data provided by the Solid Waste Authority.

That figure dropped to 607 tons in 2017 as recycling options dwindled.

For 2018, the Solid Waste Authority anticipates recycling about 333 tons of material.

The Solid Waste Authority began its drop-off recycling program in 2011 with 37 bins at eight locations. That program slowly dwindled as funding from local municipalities dried up. Now the program is completely supported by grants and the $75 yearly fee users pay to use the West End drop-off site.

The Solid Waste Authority debuted mobile recycling trailers in January that allow residents to drop off cardboard, aluminum cans, tin cans and paper for free.

Cartmill said she would like to see Zoeller come back with a plan that does not use the entirety of the county’s levying authority.

“If we eliminated that whole fund, we have nothing to fall back on if the county needs something for 911, EMS — we’ve got to pay for voting machines coming up ... those are the things that bother me,” Cartmill said. “It’s a financial situation for the county that I don’t think has been taken into consideration by the Solid Waste Authority.”

To this argument, Bailey said it has been over 15 years since the county commission enacted a new excess levy and that the minuscule amount of levying authority the county has left has sat untouched for several years.

Zoeller said he is unsure about the next steps for the Solid Waste Authority’s recycling program and whether it will work to come up with a new plan or continue on their current course.

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