Is county ready to scrap proposal to dedicate millage for garbage?

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, July 19, 2016

NATCHEZ — After hearing concerns from several residents Monday, the Adams County Board of Supervisors seems to have taken a proposal to dedicate millage toward sanitation costs off the table.

The board hosted a public hearing for a proposed dedication of six mills — the maximum allowed by law — for the collection and disposal of trash for county residents outside the Natchez city limits. The value of a mill is approximately $120,000 in Adams County.

The county pays Waste Pro USA for collection and disposal, but handles collecting fees from residents through a county sanitation department staffed with two employees.

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Supervisors have said for years the county has struggled with collecting fees from residents who do not pay their bills. By state statute, the county is required to collect and dispose of trash, which means it is collected and disposed even if bills go unpaid.

The county budgets a little more than $1 million each year for sanitation, which includes its contract with Waste Pro and costs for staffing the sanitation department, County Administrator Joe Murray said Monday after the meeting.

The county only collects, however, approximately $760,000 each year for sanitation, and covers the remaining $240,000 with gaming revenue, Murray said.

Dedicating a millage for sanitation would allow the county to attach the fees for trash to a tax bill that has to be paid in addition to whatever ad valorem taxes the resident has to pay. It would also allow the county to eliminate the sanitation department and save approximately $2,500 a month.

Homestead exemptions would still apply.

Several county property owners strongly voiced their opposition to the millage at Monday’s meeting, saying it would unfairly increase the property taxes they already have to pay.

One property owner, who said he owns large parcels of land, such as timberland, said he should not have to pay sanitation fees on property that does not generate any trash.

“I think it’s completely unfair to property owners to have to pay (sanitation) taxes on property that (doesn’t) accumulate any trash,” Theodore Johnson said.

Other property owners said they also thought it would be unfair to pay additional taxes on their property housing businesses that are already required to have a Dumpster on site.

Property owners also said if their tax bill increased, they might have increase the rental fee for renters on their property.

Some residents suggested Waste Pro be responsible for collecting its own fees in future contracts. The supervisors reiterated that the county is still responsible for picking up trash, so even if Waste Pro cut off service to an overdue customer, their trash would still have to be picked up and disposed.

Other residents suggested the fees be attached to utility bills, such as water, as it is done in the City of Natchez.

The supervisors said that is not an option because the county does not own any of the local water associations. The city is able to include the fee in residents’ water bills because Natchez Water Works is a city-owned entity.

Residents also suggested once-a-week pickup instead of the current twice weekly schedule.

Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said that would only save the county a nominal amount, and was tried before and did not work well.

“It’s not like it would cut the bill in half,” he said.

District 2 Supervisor David Carter also voiced his opposition to the millage, especially because his district contains large parcels owned by residents as well as highly valued property in Beau Pré and other areas.

“If we do this … a large portion of people won’t have to pay taxes … but in my district, some people have to pick up what others don’t pay,” he said. “In District 2, they would pick up the vast bulk of that area … I agree that we have to find a solution, but in District 2, the solution would be that they would pay the lion’s share of most of the county taxes.

“I know we must find a solution, and I think everybody here agrees that what we’re looking at is not the solution.”

While the general consensus from residents was that they opposed the millage, multiple residents said they could live with an increase to their garbage bill.

County residents currently pay $13 a month for garbage pickup. Ideally, if all 5,593 households paid their bills, the county could cover its cost with approximately a $3.50 increase to residents’ monthly bills.

The problem, Murray said, is those who are not paying their bills are likely still not going to pay.

Murray said he thinks a special assessment, which did not pass the Legislature a few years ago, would be a good solution to the county’s collection problem.

Had the special assessment legislation passed, the county would essentially levy the garbage fees as a special assessment against a property.

The tax collector would enter the assessment upon the annual tax roll of the county and collect the assessment at the same time ad valorem taxes on the property are collected.

Property owners not paying the taxes face the possibility of losing their property through a tax sale.

Murray said he plans to contact legislators to explore the possibility of the bill once again being introduced to the Legislature.

Lazarus said after the meeting the county will continue to work toward a solution for garbage fee collection, and said the county would be making a push for collection with its new collection agency, Mississippi Court Collections.

“We are going to push very hard to collect this money,” he said.