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Hundreds of city trash bills go unpaid
A billing change for city garbage pickup is causing a stink, but Brunswick officials say it's the best solution to one of the biggest problems plaguing the service: Customers who do not pay their bills.

The mayor and city commissioners received complaints from property owners after they opened their tax bills last month and discovered the addition of a $247-fee for trash and garbage collection.

The new method of collecting for the service -- in one lump sum on property tax bills, the same as in the county -- was originally approved by the city commission in 2009 as an answer to several issues that arise with monthly payments, the largest of which is residents who fail to pay.

The number of overdue customers could be as many as 600, City Finance director Kathy Mills said. Waste Management provides the service in the city.

Under the current fee structure, residents with overdue bills are given a three-month grace period, without late fees before they lose their garbage cans, which are confiscated by the city.

To get the garbage can back, the customer must pay the money owed to the city, plus a $20 delivery fee.

Other problems can occur when the city picks up the trash cans of those in arrears. It can lead to illegal dumping and cost the city in other ways.

"We're spending a lot of time (at city hall) opening new accounts and closing accounts, mostly due to the rental property," Mills said Friday. "That's probably the biggest area where we're having collection problems. We have trash cans that are stolen, and that's also part of the problem."

Mills said a number of local governments in Georgia, including Glynn County, use a tax commissioner's office to bill for services. Not only does it reduce the costs for picking up bins from overdue accounts, but it also reduces the costs of postage and puts the burden of collecting from renters on landlords.

"Hopefully, we can get it down to where eventually everybody's paying what they should be paying," Mills said. "We're just trying to come up with ways to cut costs."

Still, skeptics remain.

Prince Street resident Dave Rouse plans to speak to the commission next week about what he sees as putting a person's property up as "collateral" just to collect garbage fees. He said the city did not do enough to notify residents of the change.

Why, he poses in a statement he intends to read Wednesday, weren't the garbage fees included on the assessment notices delivered to city property owners in June?

"The reason (the city commission) waited so long was, you had to know about House Bill 159, which made putting any fees on property tax bills illegal," he wrote.

The proposed state bill, however, never made it to the floor of the state House of Representatives, having failed in the Ways and Means Committee.

"The bill was tabled March 5, and is to be introduced the first of next year's session," he said.

City Manager Bill Weeks said the city waited for the bill to fail before implementing the ordinance, but he said the city still made steps to notify the public through the newspaper and in monthly garbage bills.

Brunswick Commissioner Julie Martin said the shift to annual payments will go a long way in reducing the city's efforts and expenses in collecting sanitation fees. She said, naturally, the first year of a large change will have a greater effect on people.

"Property owners that have rental property, they need to bill that cost into their rental payments," Martin said.

The city commission will vote on exemptions to the fee collection ordinance beginning with a discussion at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the second floor of Old City Hall, 1229 Newcastle St.

* Reporter Kelly Quimby writes about government and other local topics. Contact her at kquimby@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 321.



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