How should county pay for landfill?

January 31, 2014 

For reasons no one can discern, the volume of trash entering the Johnston County landfill fell by 40,000 tons last year.

Recycling explains just a small fraction of the drop. This past fiscal year in Johnston County, the volume of recycled material climbed 33 percent but only to 2,178 tons.

Rick Proctor oversees the county’s landfill. The economy could explain the drop in landfill volume, he said. When people buy less, they throw away less too. It’s also possible, he said, that the county’s businesses are finding ways to produce less waste.

Mr. Proctor didn’t say this, but it’s also possible that Johnston residents last year dumped more of their trash along the county’s roadways or burned more of it in their backyards.

In any event, because the volume of trash fell, so did the revenue from trash disposal, prompting Johnston to invite other counties to dispose of their trash here. Durham County has already said yes.

But what if Johnston County didn’t have to rely on revenue from landfill tipping fees? What if revenue for landfill operations came from property taxes?

If Johnston did not have to rely on tipping fees, it would have no reason to recruit trash from other counties, and its landfill would last longer. Johnston residents, meanwhile, would have no reason to dump their trash along roads or burn it, and that would be good for the environment.

Funding landfill operations from the property tax would not bankrupt Johnston families. By our estimation, doing so would require a tax increase of four to five cents, or $60 to $75 a year for a family with a $150,000 house. By the way, $60 a year is what Johnston charges households to use the county’s landfill and convenience centers.

That’s a dollar wash that would have the added benefit of giving Johnston a revenue stream not subject to the volume of trash entering the landfill.

Johnston’s County Commissioners are loathe to raise property taxes, and we’re not big fans either. But sometimes the property tax is the best way to do the government’s business. At the very least, commissioners should give it some thought.

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