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Universal Curbside Garbage Pickup Plan Has Some Leon Co. Residents In A Funk

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Bob Hill is a retired contractor who has been bringing his trash to the Miccosukee Rural Waste Service Center for more than 30 years. But he says he’s not so set in his ways to oppose a county proposal that would require him to pay a monthly fee to get curbside trash pickup:

“I can’t see any negative side unless you come from a place where, ‘it’s inconvenient and this is the way we’ve always done it’. But I think we can do it closer to home.”  

Hill says he sees the benefits in the service, like higher participation in recycling efforts. But not everyone shares that sentiment:

“This isn’t going to save you money except for a handful of people....I guarantee you they don’t have ¼ of ‘em on this end of the county. Their probably on the high-income end of the county,”  said Fort Braden resident Charlotte Mann during a recent county hearing at Fort Braden Elementary School.

Mann along with about 200 other people express their displeasure to county administrator Vince Long. Under the county’s plans, some 23,000 people in unincorporated areas of the county who already pay for curbside service would see their monthly garbage bills decrease. But another 15,000 people who don’t currently have the service  would be required to pay some $158  a year to have their waste picked up and carted off:

“Our people here don’t have money. They do it by the sweat of their brow," Mann said.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge says he's heard the outcry.

“It may not be perfect and it may not be for everyone. If you live in the city, it doesn’t impact you at all. If you live in the unincorporated area, and you get garbage service, you get a $70 dollar a year reduction in your rate.”   

Desloge says the county is trying to mitigate dumping in sensitive areas, like the Apalachicola National Forest. Waste service centers in Woodville, Miccosukee, Fort Braden and Lake Talquin are all slated for closure. It costs the county $830,000 a year to operate the facilities, and if the county were to begin charging people to use them, it would be $2 more than the curbside pickup service. But Chaires resident Carlos Alvarez says he’s willing to pay the additional costs to keep the facilities open:

If the people like myself, who are not paying for curbside, if we need to pay some more for the rural service centers, then I think that is appropriate.  I think that’s something we ought to be doing.” 

Alavarez also doesn't buy the county's financial arguments for closing the facilities. He says the $2 difference between having residents pay for them versus going to universal curbside is mitigated once cost-of-living adjustments are made. He also has concerns about the impact heavy vehicles could have on the rural, dirt roads in unincorporated areas of the county.

"When you start driving heavy equipment on them it contributes to erosion and you want to keep big vehicles off that...the count says there will be smaller vehicles, but even a big pickup will do considerable damage.” 

But Commissioner Desloge, who supports the plan, says the curbside pickup transition isn’t yet set in stone.

“Clearly, it’s one of those decisions where we look down the road and know we can’t continue to subsidize this," he said. "But I want to be clear, it’s not cast in stone. We’ve got a lot of people upset that this is the way they’ve operated for generations, this is what they’re used to and they don’t want government interference, so...we’ll see.”  

The county’s curbside plan comes months after it dropped longtime servicer Waste Management in favor of the company Waste Pro, which won a competitive bidding process to takeover garbage collection services. The change in vendors is resulting in a 32 percent decline in garbage bills for most customers. The county’s next public hearing on curbside pickup is set for 5:30 pm May 21st at Montford Middle school.