It’s easy to get mad at government, especially local government. They’re the ones who don’t fill the potholes, don’t fix the streetlights, don’t catch the crooks. So when I arrived home Monday evening and saw that my big, brown yard-waste bin–filled with all the leaves and branches the ice storm had loosened and Isabel took down–hadn’t been emptied, I wasn’t happy. I was ready to pile those leaves on top of all Durham’s other management problems, as enumerated this week in Burtman’s column, and dump them on City Hall. Then, I was primed to go to the polls next week and (by voting the Indy‘s endorsements) throw the proverbial bums out.

I was to learn, however, it’s not that simple.

Before my re-education, I went to the city’s web site and saw that there were few special provisions being made in Durham for hurricane debris clean-up. Last year, as a way to bring in more money and not call it a tax increase, the city council enacted an optional yard-waste pickup fee of $50. I’d paid my fee, but the truck hadn’t come. Worse, the only way hurricane debris would ever get picked up at the homes of people who hadn’t paid the fee was if they went ahead and paid it, or hauled their stuff to the dump themselves (at least that’s free for a while), or paid $20 for a special pick-up

But in Chapel Hill, special crews already were heading around town picking up what Isabel had blown down. In Cary, extra crews were at work, and on Oct. 13, there’s going to be a special sweep for the big stuff. Raleigh wasn’t that different than Durham–except everyone gets their yard waste picked up. I was halfway to City Hall.

Then, Tuesday morning, the yard-waste truck arrived and emptied my bin. Better late than never. And I had a conversation with T. Baridi Nkokheli, Durham’s assistant director of solid waste management. Turns out the ice storm clean-up was paid for by the feds, but this time the damage wasn’t bad enough for Triangle counties to qualify. That meant a full clean-up would have cost the city up to $850,000–leaving no money for the next hurricane. So the city council decided not to spend it. Instead, crews are working six days a week, though only picking up from the 17,000 of the city’s 61,000 households who paid the $50. Except–people aren’t stupid. Many people without the $50 sticker are pooling their debris with people who have one. And that’s OK, he said. Raleigh collects a mandatory $156 annual fee for garbage and yard waste collection, which is why all their debris gets picked up. In Durham, after a month or so of clean-up, the city will figure out how to pick up what’s left. “There is no way that the City of Durham intends to leave storm debris unattended on the streets of the city,” Nkokheli said.

It’s easy to be cynical about local government, but not so easy to figure out how to make it work. Our endorsement package features candidates we think are up for the job, and that includes taking out the trash.


You may notice different Independent covers in Wake and Durham/Orange counties. That’s so we can attract readers with local candidates. The inside pages are the same.