Raleigh, N.C. — Sponsors of a House omnibus county bill had to pull the measure off the floor Thursday after a battle broke out over fees for recycling programs.
The debate over House Bill 430 was not expected to be contentious. The county omnibus bill is a biennial tradition that addresses concerns county commissioners bring to the legislature.
Most of the bill was innocuous, setting up study commissions to look at how counties can recover lost property tax revenue when land is taken off the tax rolls by nonprofits or state government. Another section would set up a study commission on how best to battle "noxious aquatic weeds" such as hydrilla that plague the state's waterways.
A fourth section, however, spurred debate. It would clarify existing law to specifically give counties the authority to charge a fee for their recycling programs as well as for solid waste disposal. Many counties are already doing this and have done so for years, argued sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret. But after a recent challenge to a fee by an Orange County resident, county commissioners decided the language of the law giving counties that authority needs to be clearer.
Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said the clarification isn't needed. He argued that counties should charge for trash disposal by volume rather than a flat fee, which he called a regressive tax.
"Some poor people don’t have enough money to buy anything to recycle, but they’re paying just as much as the McMansion couple with 10 kids who recycle tons of stuff every week," Stam said. "This is not about do you like recycling or not. It’s about how are you going to pay for it."
Stam said he planned to run an amendment to that section Monday night, but Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston, beat him to the punch, offering an amendment to remove that section entirely.
Bumgardner said he believed the bill would "allow Gaston County to require everyone to have to two garbage cans and to pay for it."
"I live in a city that has recycling, what they call a recycling system," he said. "We have to have two garbage cans. I really don’t have room for two garbage cans and don’t want two garbage cans. But when I set it on the side of the road, they don’t pick it up and take it with them. They just empty it and put it back.
"I personally don’t like it, and neither do a lot of other people in my town and in my district," he said.
McElraft and others pointed out that the section only clarifies the existing law that allows counties to recoup their costs for recycling programs. Any profits made go back into the solid waste disposal fund to lower disposal fees.
"Do what your counties need," McElraft pleaded. "The counties need this recycling and waste fund so that they can do what’s best for the landfills. If you start putting all this in your landfills, your taxes are going to go up because you’re going to have to have more landfills"
"I don’t want us to get into a situation that we are putting into jeopardy all the recycling programs that are taking place in our counties," added co-sponsor Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg.
Several members admitted to confusion about exactly what the bill would do and what the amendment would do, a problem that was exacerbated by the proposal's swift arrival on the House floor just two hours after approval by the House Finance Committee.
Stam, who supported Bumgardner's amendment, said striking the clarification would leave existing law in place, but McElraft warned that failure to clarify the law would subject counties to more complaints and possibly court challenges to new or existing recycling programs.
Before Bumgardner's amendment could be voted on, McElraft removed the bill from the floor. She said sponsors would work to clarify the clarification section and would put it on the calendar for next week.