County Commissioners End Trash Decal Program

In 5-to-2 Vote, County Will End Trash Decal Program In 2023

It took more than 15 years for county commissioners to end the controversial decal program at solid waste convenience sites in Johnston County.  The county has 12 solid waste or ‘green’ sites to dispose of garbage. To use one of the sites, you must first purchase a $100 decal and place it on your windshield. The decal is valid for 12 months.

On Oct. 5th, in a split vote, commissioners approved a motion to end the program in 2023. They requested County Manager Rick Hester prepare the transition away from the decal program and to upgrade the convenience sites by July 1, 2023.

The board agreed to set the end date of the decal program out more than two years – to July 1, 2023  – to give the county manager and Solid Waste Director Rick Proctor ample time to make convenience site improvements. When the decal program ends, officials estimate the facilities will see a 40 percent increase in users and garbage disposal.  More trucks will also have to be purchased to transport garbage from the sites back to the landfill.

Commissioner Tony Braswell of Pine Level and Vice Chair Chad Stewart of Four Oaks have been pushing for the eliminate of the $100 per year decal program for years.

“We have had a decal system for over 20 years. Because we have always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s always the best way,” Braswell said in the Oct. 5th meeting. “We are addressing county needs four to five years out now in our Capital Improvement Plan. So I want this to be included…  This antiquated system regarding decals has got to go away. We have talked this thing to death. Let’s move on.”

Commissioner Butch Lawter agreed the decal system was antiquated and hard to administer but said the waste disposal program needs to remain self-supporting and not paid for out of the General Fund.

Vice Chairman Chad Stewart said, “I was looking an effective date set today of totally eliminating our decal system and then we do our due diligence up to that date.”

Chairman Ted Godwin replied the Board needed input from staff before setting a date.

“What in the world type of input are we going to get from staff that we have not gotten for the last 15 years?” Vice Chairman Stewart responded. “I am looking total elimination, hassle free for every citizen of Johnston County whether they use it or not.”

“I understand where you are coming from,” Commissioner Larry Wood said. “It has been talked about a long time… There is a problem but I don’t know how to fix it.  We are not reinventing the wheel here.”  He expressed concern there was no plan in place to cover the costs of running the convenience sites once the decals were eliminated.

Commissioner Braswell stated, “There is a clear path to get it done. We’ve got studies. We’ve got everything. How much it costs…  There’s counties surrounding us that does it in a way that is fair to everyone.”

Chairman Godwin stated Johnston County is the only county in North Carolina that requires its residents to purchase a decal to dispose of garbage at a county facility.

Following discussions, the board voted 5-to-2 to end the decal program on July 1, 2023.  Commissioners Larry Wood and Jeff Carver voted against.

After the meeting Commissioner Braswell told Johnston County Report, “One of my campaign promises when I ran for county commissioner in 2018 was to come up with a plan to eliminate the current trash decals. At times I thought we may not be able to get this done, but I am excited we got this done.  Discussions on this subject have been going on for most of the past 2 years and I appreciate the work of the commissioners in order we can finally see an end to this obsolete system.”

“A working group of three commissioners will be appointed to work with staff and an independent engineering consultant. The group will recommend to the Board phase-out details for the decal program – and a future funding mechanism for the solid waste convenience centers. The first status update will be presented to the Board in January 2021,” Mr. Hester said.

During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the County sold 12,777 decals and serviced 559,287 customers at the convenience sites. In the same fiscal year, the sites collected 17,000 tons of household waste and 5,400 tons of recycling materials.  The sites have seen an average four percent increase in customers and trash collected since 2017.    Last year the convenience sites and recycling program reported a net income loss of $650,000.

History Of Discussions
At their August 2005 meeting, Johnston County Commissioners discussed problems at their 12 convenience sites. Approximately 30,000 citizens had paid $55 each that year for a trash decal to access the sites but the county was losing money.

In March 2006, commissioners discussed stopping the trash decal requirement to use the convenience sites, however the board could not reach a resolution on how to fund the operation without pulling more money from the General Fund.

In September 2014, commissioners held a public hearing on the now $65 decal program.  The convenience sites were operating at a loss of $1.1 million per year.  The board discussed adding a $5 Recycling Fee to every county tax bill, including residents within the city limits; and an additional $50 Availability Fee to property tax bills for residents who lived outside the city limits.  No action was taken.

Less than a year later in May 2015, officials said even with the decal program, the convenience sites were losing $1.2 million annually.  The board discussed eliminating the $65 decal. In its place they would charge all residents in unincorporated areas a $51-53 solid waste recycling fee on their property tax bills. Residents who live in municipalities would be charged a $5 Recycling Fee, since most towns provided their own garbage collection.

In July 2016, commissioners increased the trash decal fee from $65 to $100. The annual fee has not changed in the past four years.