It’s a dirty assignment, but somebody has to do it.
That somebody is Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr, who has been visiting municipal chambers in an effort to unite cities in taking out the trash.
Furr gave the county’s solid waste presentation via Zoom to the Wilton Manors Commission May 25. Furr’s goal is to bring enough cities together to create a local agency to manage garbage disposal.
“No matter which way you look at it, the county and all the cities are gonna have to find some way to finance it so we can take care of the garbage,” said Furr, who represents District 6 on the county commission which includes the cities of Hollywood, Hallandale Beach and Pembroke Pines. “We’re trying to bring more and more cities into this because it gives us better leverage and negotiating with whoever we’re dealing with.”
The county ensures all cities have a place to take processable waste, a different service from hauling where companies contract with cities for curb-side pick-up. The dilemma is a looming expiration date on a contract with Wheelabrator. Wilton Manors is one of 13 cities in the contract with Wheelabrator which expires January 15, 2022.
A working group was formed to come up with solutions. The group’s main focus, said Parkland Vice Mayor Bob Mayersohn, is to determine “what type of governance model we want solid waste to be in the county.” Mayersohn is leading small cities in this effort and he joined Furr remotely for the presentation.
“I support the ILA [Interlocal Agreement],” Mayersohn said. “I do recognize that there is some difficulty regarding the state. The fear is the state could come in at any time and amend the parameters.”
A dependent special district is also an option that the county could fund with an ad valorem tax. Mayersohn said he is leaning towards this option because of its flexibility.
“My mind is still open,” he said.
Ultimately it comes down to trust and recognizing a growing problem. Broward produced nearly four million tons of solid waste in 2019, up from 425,000 tons in 2013 while seeing a big drop in recycling rates.
“The recycling rate plummeted and the landfill rate skyrocketed because not everybody is taking garbage to the incinerator anymore. One incinerator was dismantled because there was not enough garbage to make it feasible,” Furr said.
While Broward was dismantling its incinerator, Palm Beach was building a new one. Furr called the switch a “hard lesson to learn.” Palm Beach, with more unincorporated land, has developed a 45% recycling rate, compared to 31% for Broward.
Furr said Broward is aiming for a 75% recycling rate with an emphasis on repurposing materials such as glass, plastic and metals.
“We’re looking to do a robust recycling program,” Furr said.
Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said the city once took pride in its high recycling rate but when word got out all the materials were simply being dumped in a landfill it left “a bad taste in the city’s mouth.”
Commissioner Gary Resnick, who once presided over the Broward League of Cities, recalled some of the messy histories with managing waste.
“I was around when the resource recovery board was falling apart so I still have sort of the battle scars from that,” Resnick said. “There really was a lot of lack of trust. A lot will depend on getting a lot of the larger cities to join in if we do an ILA.”
Whatever district is formed, the county has voted to fund half of it with each city getting its share based on population. “Trust is the absolute key,” Furr said. “We have to understand everything way upfront. There’s not a lot of historical examples of big ILAs in the state.”
When the last ILA dissolved in 2013, the garbage business became like the wild west, Furr said.
“The county back then controlled everything unilaterally,” Resnick said. “When the [Resource Recovery Board] dissolved there were millions and millions of dollars unaccounted for and by the way we’re still waiting for that audit and I’m not kidding about it.”
Furr said a waste generation study is needed at an estimated cost of $1 million which would also require an amendment to the memorandum of understanding between the county and cities. Using Palm Beach as an example, the annual single-family residential rate is $175.
“To get some of these big cities that were really hurt back then to join in is going to be a lot of work,” Resnick said. “Wilton Manors have to follow along with what other cities decide to do. If big cities don’t join in it’s not going to succeed.”
Furr said the county is moving slowly and methodically to earn back trust. In making his pitch to Lauderhill on Haitian Flag Day, Furr said he was struck by the Haitian proverb, Men Anpil Chay Pa Lou.
“It translates into ‘Many Hands Make a Light Load’ and it really speaks to this if more cities are involved the assessments are reduced,” he said.