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County garbage bills stink: Residents rack up more than $2 million in past due bills

NATCHEZ — Since Adams County began billing for sanitation services in September 1995, it has racked up $2,014,852 in uncollected fees from residents who didn’t — or refused to — pay their garbage bills.

Now, the county is planning to take the worst offenders to court.

Monday, the Adams County Board of Supervisors authorized its attorney, Scott Slover, to pursue the biggest claims in Adams County Justice Court. County Administrator Joe Murray said some of the largest bills owed to the county go back to the very beginning of the sanitation services.

“There are some people who owe us upwards of $4,000,” he said.

Under a state law that first went into effect in 1993, Adams County is required to provide garbage services to any waste-producing structure in the county, even if those who receive the services don’t utilize them or pay for them, Murray said.

And while state law does allow for the county to utilize collection agencies or the withholding of car tags to force the collection, Slover said those methods have not been as effective as county officials would like.

On top of that, the county recently found out it is not allowed to utilize a collection agency and the withholding of car tags at the same time, he said.

That’s where pursuing the claims in justice court comes in.

“A couple of counties that we talked to had some success collecting their sanitation fees using (the court) method,” Slover said. “We can’t take out (residents’) utilities, we can’t stop picking up garbage, so there is no immediate effect we can do.”

The county cannot legally write off debt it is owed, he said, though there may be a way to make a notation in the county books that a bill is uncollectible because a resident has died.

When the county moves forward with the claims in court, Slover said it would likely utilize local attorneys who would filel liens on behalf of the county.

“They all are going to work for the same amount — a 25-percent collection fee,” he said. “I believe it will be charged on top of what they collect, so the county won’t be paid any less, but the person who pays the judgment would pay more.”

While the county is looking at taking a proactive approach by placing an annual special assessment earmarked for sanitation on all residents’ property tax bills, Murray said putting such an assessment in place would not occur quickly. The county must first assess all of the buildings on every piece of property in the county and determine how many of them are waste-producing structures before the assessment could be determined.

“Even if we started the special assessment tomorrow, you still have gobs of delinquent garbage fee accounts that have to be collected, and that is the way it is going to have to be for years to come,” Murray said. “The special assessment is only going to be proactive, it will only start from here forward; all of the delinquent accounts that are already established will have to be collected.”