County Trash Collection Proposal Halted by Lengthy State Process

A proposal to look into opening county government-led trash collection contracts in areas without that service has been put on the back burner for now because of a lengthy and onerous process in state law.

State law allows the county government to create sanitary districts where it would collect fees and sign contracts with trash and recycling collection companies much like a homeowners’ association, possibly offering a welcome reprieve for businesses or residents with individual contracts or none at all. But on looking into the law, county staff members found it requires a complicated process.

To begin a sanitary district, the county must first petition at least 50 qualified voters or 50 percent of the property owners in the proposed district, hold a public hearing, create a county ordinance, and crucially, either buy out any existing contracts in the district, enter a five-year waiting period, or take over collection services with its own public staff members with a petition by 55 percent of property owners.

The five-year waiting period to start a county contract in particular dissuaded supervisors on the board’s finance committee, who discussed it July 14.

“I’ll be honest with you, the five-year waiting period is a little absurd,” said Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), who introduced the proposal. He had found that Sterling residents, most of whom do not live in neighborhoods with HOAs, consistently complain about the inconsistent prices and quality of service in their trash collection contracts. Some HOAs have also jumped on the idea, reporting similar complaints.

Saines hoped sanitary districts would give county residents group purchasing power, better quality service, consistent fees, and oversight. People in the sanitary district would pay fees to the county to be used for the contact. Such districts are common in the DC area; according to a county staff report, there are 60 in Fairfax, with an annual fee to residents of $400.

With new spending frozen while the county government waits to see the full revenue impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no appetite among supervisors on the finance committee to pay for a consultant study. Instead, supervisors referred the law to their legislative program, and next year may ask the General Assembly to change the process to begin a sanitary district.

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