INDIANAPOLIS – County officials could dissolve local solid waste management districts – but still provide services – under a bill that passed the Indiana House on Tuesday.
The move creates an opening for the city of Fort Wayne and Allen County to re-evaluate local programs, though the bill’s author said that was not the purpose of filing the measure.
The legislation is a major overhaul of a system in place since 1990 requiring every Indiana county to operate or be part of a solid waste management district.
Back then, there was concern that landfills would soon be overflowing and districts were tasked with facilitating industrial, business and residential waste recycling.
"Many counties said, ‘Hey, ours is fine.’ Those who said ‘give us an option,’ it gives them an option but with a lot of checks and balances," said Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne. "They have to have a plan to continue to provide the services."
The House voted 83-12 to approve Senate Bill 366, authored by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne. All northeast representatives supported the bill except Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, who was excused.
Initially, the bill simply allowed the county commissioners to dissolve the districts.
But Lehman worked to alter the bill significantly in the House. Brown said she hasn’t reviewed the final version but was supportive of amendments.
Under the bill, both the county commissioners and the county council would have to agree to dissolve the district. And they would have to have a plan in place on how to handle recycling in the future.
Also, importantly, any property tax or other dollars used for the programs would remain and must be used for similar services. Lehman said private contractors might be able to provide the service using the same funds essentially.
He suggested, for instance, that Fort Wayne might be willing to take over a bulk of the services in Allen County.
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said the city of Fort Wayne is very interested in the bill because they want to be more aggressive than what is happening in the Allen County Solid Waste Management District.
Matt Gratz, solid waste manager for the city of Fort Wayne, said the Allen County district provides only one household hazardous waste collection event a year when other districts provide multiple events or have them permanently.
It would be beneficial to have more Tox-Away days or tire collections, he said, because people don’t want to hold onto items such as oil-based paints or pesticides for almost a year for a special waste removal day so instead they dump them in the trash.
"We need to look at the services offered to county residents and see what we can do better," he said.
But some critics of the bill worry what might happen to unincorporated areas and smaller communities.
Beth Lock, lobbyist for the Allen County commissioners, said there is no current discussion of dissolving the district but she worked on the bill in case to ensure that related revenues remain with the programs.
"Anytime there can be local control we are supportive, but it doesn’t mean we are going out tomorrow to dissolve the district or even have that discussion. It simply provides options," she said.
Brown said counties can look at all kinds of options, including contracting with private-sector companies that have leapfrogged government in terms of solid waste and recycling technologies.
"I think this is a great solution," she said. "The private sector is chomping at the bit."
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, noted the state has a 50 percent municipal recycling goal in law.
"I think the system has been working," he said. "It’s been accomplishing good things, and we ought to keep it the way it is."