Supervisors look to collect trash bills

Published 12:02 am Friday, June 1, 2012

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors decided earlier this week to investigate new ways of collecting past-due sanitation bills. But they’re also looking into ways to ensure payments aren’t late in the first place.

County Administrator Joe Murray said the county might consider attaching a special assessment to ad valorem tax bills in order to more fully collect sanitation bills.

The special assessment does not count as a new tax, Murray said.

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Instead, it’s an additional fee attached to a tax bill that has to be paid in addition to whatever ad valorem taxes the resident has to pay. It allows the county to collect the fees it needs without hitting landowners with an additional millage, Murray said.

“You are putting a fee for exactly what the garbage bill for that property is for the year,” Murray said.

Collecting sanitation payments has been a problem for Adams County for years, he said.

By law the county is required to collect household waste, but some county residents haven’t been paying the bills sent to their houses, in some cases for years. Wednesday, Supervisor Mike Lazarus suggested the county look into taking the worst offenders to court.

Sanitation Department Head Sue Clark said that most customers pay their bills, but some flatly refuse to make the $13 a month payment. In one case, a garbage customer has a $3,957.73 bill that he’s not budging on paying, and — by law — the county can’t budge on pickup.

Other customers, Clark said, don’t tell the county when they vacate a property and continue to get billed for trash pickup. Occasionally, that goes on for years.

“I got a call today from somebody who had no idea of this bill, and that it has been billed for all these years, but they were only at that particular residence for a month, and they didn’t know about this bill until it popped up on their credit report,” Clark said. “It’s a $2,300 bill, so you are talking about 10 years or better.”

One way the county currently collects on late fees is to withhold new vehicle tags until the bill is paid. Some residents, however, have found a way around that.

“They will put a vehicle in somebody else’s name and will use their aunt’s-brother’s-sister’s address as their residence,” Clark said.

That’s why the special assessment would probably work best, Murray said.

The county would have to establish how many rubbish-generating structures were on a tract of land, and then bill accordingly. The county administrator admitted it would take some time to establish that.

“If I have a piece of property with five trailers on it, and it was all one parcel of land, the fee would have to be charged to the landowner,” Murray said. “Right now, you only have information on one person living at that address, and there are five (residences), and you are losing out on your garbage (collection).”

Other possible collection schemes are less palatable, Murray said, including new millages or a millage with a fee. A major problem with a garbage collection millage is that state law limits it to six mils.

“A millage would be so much of a big burden on some of the big corporate partners that it wouldn’t be fair to assess an ad valorem on them — it would cost Corrections Corporation of America $90,000 for six mills,” he said.

“You could do a special taxing district, which would eliminate certain properties, but if we were going to do that, we would have to have more than six mills to fund garbage collection, so we would have to go to a millage and a fee. If you’re not going to do a millage only, I don’t see the point in doing a millage.”

The supervisors will discuss the possibility of a special assessment later in the year, and Murray said if it is to be adopted it wouldn’t likely go into effect until after the 2013 fiscal year.