New operating hours at Beaufort County's trash and recycling centers had some residents raising a stink this fall, but county leaders and center attendants say the complaints are starting to dissipate.
Nearly three months after county officials cut hours at most centers by two hours and closed them on Wednesdays, residents have accepted the change, albeit slowly, according to solid waste manager Jim Minor.
"From what we're seeing and hearing, obviously there were some people upset at the beginning, but that seems to be dying down, and people are adjusting their schedules," Minor said last week.
The cuts are expected to save the county about $100,000 and were agreed to this summer as part of County Council's plan to avoid a property tax increase. It avoided the hike by freezing or reducing funding to county departments and local agencies.
But the changes at the centers were not well-received when they began the first week of October, according to Minor and center attendants, who got earfuls from residents about disrupted morning routines.
At the biggest centers -- particularly those in Bluffton and on Hilton Head and St. Helena islands -- dozens of cars now line up outside the gates before they open at 9 a.m. as people try to do get rid of their trash on their way to work, Minor said.
On a recent Thursday morning at the Hilton Head center, about 10 cars were waiting in the half hour before the center opened. In early October, though, that line would have been two to three times as long, center attendant Bob Fields said.
"This time a month ago, it was crazy," Fields said minutes after opening the gate. "Here on Hilton Head, they don't like change like that. There's still some complaints, but all in all, it's not that bad."
Palmetto Hall resident Tom Raddin and Port Royal Plantation resident Ed Armstrong agreed they initially were miffed at the change, but understood it came down to changing their routines.
"I was annoyed at first, but it's just an adjustment; people will get there," Raddin said with a laugh.
The line at the center off Sea Island Parkway on St. Helena Island is usually worse than on Hilton Head, attendant Tamer Middleton said. Often 30 to 40 cars are lined up back to the highway when Middleton opens the gate, she said.
St. Helena Island resident Fran Newton had to change his weekly routine to meet the new hours, but he's not mad. If the change helps keep taxes down, a little flexibility is not much to ask, he said.
Other area residents agree and are changing their habits and limiting their complaints, Middleton said.
"In order to help our county, somebody's going to have to sacrifice," she said. "You've got to make sacrifices in life."
The reduction in hours also is extending the lives of the centers, which are nearing capacity on their busiest days, Minor said. Having them closed Wednesday for maintenance and to give contractor Waste Management extra time to empty containers is a big help, he said.
"We're pushing some of these centers in urban areas pretty close to their limit," he said. "This is helping cope as we grow. When we get to that point that we can't cope any longer, and we've grown as much as we can, we're eventually going to have to make a choice."
That choice is almost certainly going to be a switch to curbside trash pickup, but it's a matter of when and for how much, Minor said.
"This is the lowest-cost alternative to provide waste and recycling services to our citizens," he said. "We're trying to extend this system as long as we possibly can and provide decent-level service for the lowest possible price."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.