New bill would disband districts

HANCOCK COUNTY — Proposed legislation would allow county officials to eliminate the local solid waste management district, an operation that recycles tons of hazardous materials and garbage that might otherwise be sent to landfills.

Senate Bill 366 allows county commissioners to disband formerly state-mandated solid waste districts through a majority vote. The Hancock County Solid Waste Management District opened in 2002 when a new state law required all counties to establish or join programs that give residents options for recycling hazardous materials.

The bill lifts that requirement, giving communities the ability to seek other options for managing waste.

Local officials said they don’t see a need to do away with the district, which holds regular events to collect and properly dispose of unwanted materials, including electronics, batteries and unwanted prescription medicines; it operates at no additional cost to taxpayers and diverts dangerous materials from entering landfills and waterways, they said.

The bill, which was passed by the senate and will soon be heard by the House of Representatives, allows the commissioners to vote in July 2017 to end their recycling programs.

Though Brad Armstrong and Marc Huber, who are both members of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, say they don’t intend to dissolve the district, that doesn’t guarantee the district will remain open.

Armstrong’s term expires at the end of 2016, and he is one of two Republicans seeking the party nomination in the primary election. Commissioner Tom Stevens, whose term also expires after this year, isn’t seeking re-election, making room for the possibility of two new members on the board — enough to sway a majority vote.

Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, said although he’s reserving final judgment until the bill’s hearing, which is expected to occur in coming weeks, he’s uneasy about supporting it.

“I think (the district is) serving a good purpose; things seem to be handled quite well there,” Cherry said.

Of the 66 single-county solid waste districts in Indiana, Hancock County’s operation is the least costly in the state, according to the Association of Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts.

The local district, which includes two part-time employees and no permanent facility, spends approximately $50,000 each year to operate, almost all of which is paid for through existing income tax revenue, said Robin Lowder, county auditor.

Some counties charge taxpayers additional fees to provide more services, including regular recycling pickup.

In 2015, the local district held several community recycling events, collecting more than 45,000 pounds of electronic waste, including old televisions, computers and microwaves, all of which can contain lead and other dangerous toxins, said Roy Ballard, director of the local district.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.