SEBRING — Highlands County’s legislators will come to visit the county on Oct. 3, and commissioners have a list of concerns ready for them already.
Top of the list is recycling, and the mandate from the state is that counties over 100,000 people need to have 75% participation in materials reduction, reuse and recycling by 2020.
“My request would be for the [Florida] Legislature to look at this request and see those goals are not attainable,” said County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr., whose department oversees solid waste collection, landfill operations and recycling.
On Aug. 12, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sent a letter to counties with more than 100,000 people. Highlands, with 102,441 qualifies, barely.
It reminded counties that the Legislature set goals, starting in 2008, to recycle 75% of municipal solid waste by next year, especially for 100,000-person counties.
As of last year, Highlands County was supposed to be at 70%, the letter said, but it’s at 37%.
Pinellas and Alachua counties are each recycling at 70%. Lee and Charlotte counties are at 77%.
Howerton said they have taken in construction and demolition debris, burning it to create energy — which counts toward reuse — and using the ash in concrete.
Highlands County could do that, he said: 30% of all recycling is construction and demolition debris, but he doesn’t endorse mandatory household recycling.
The county would also have to mandate cities to take part, but none of the incorporated areas have it because it costs too much to implement or contract.
“I hate for any government to tell people what they have to do,” Howerton said. “It’s unrealistic unless we put in a lot of things [to process material].”
Even then, he said Highlands doesn’t generate enough material to make it efficient.
Commissioner Don Elwell said only four out of 36 high-population counties are compliant, and two of those won’t be next year.
Michelle Gresham, Avon Park Lakes resident, said she wanted to see the big Dumpsters come back for recycling, and asked if glass could go into asphalt.
Howerton said the county crushes glass for landfill cover, but can’t use it in asphalt because it degrades the quality of the pavement and shortens its life.
Most of those Dumpster loads ended up being one-half garbage, he said. Spoiled loads had to go directly into the landfill.
With residential recycling, the county collects five times as much, Howerton said, but any time residents mix in garbage, those loads must go into the landfill.
“The general public actually believes we get money [from recycling],” Gresham said. “We don’t get a dime.”
Howerton said the county does get paid for the material, but it’s a fraction of the cost of collecting and processing it.
All it does, Elwell said, is help offset the contract cost so residents don’t pay more.
Other legislative concerns are:
• Upgrading and maintaining east and west transportation corridors.
• Lightening or helping pay for compliance with FDEP car wash drainage and groundwater requirements.
• Indexing local gasoline taxes, the same as the Legislature did for state gas taxes, so the counties can get a percentage of sales and ensure tax revenue continues to have buying power against monetary inflation.
• Increasing assessments on mobile phone accounts to help pay for consolidated 911 dispatch, which the county currently subsidizes.
When the Florida Association of Counties comes out with a list of priorities sometime in the next month, commissioners have asked County Administrator Randy Vosburg to bring them that list, so they can add those items to their requests.
Highlands County’s legislative delegation will consist of Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, and Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula.
Elwell said Albritton recommended local officials not use the term “unfunded mandates” since legislators bristle at the term.
“Ask him what we should call it,” Commissioner Greg Harris said.