DOUBLE SPRINGS - A resolution passed by the Winston County Commission Monday, June 10, increased rates for garbage collection service by $1.50 for a total of $14.75 per month for the service, with an additional $3 late fee applied each quarter to any rates that are not paid.
Commissioner David Cummings made a motion to enact the resolution, seconded by Commissioner Bobby Everett, with all voting in favor.
This increase will become effective July 1, in an effort by the county to continue offering what has been described as a viable garbage collection service.
Commission Chairman Roger Hayes has expressed a lot of concern that many residents continue to fail to pay their garbage bills, resulting in around $800,000 in total arrears currently faced by the county.
Hayes pointed out that only 20 percent of residents have not been paying for garbage collection service, resulting in strict action having to be taken by the county, turning these residents over to a bill collection service or filing warrants for those who fail to pay their bills.
At a public hearing that took place prior to the commission meeting, Hayes stressed to several residents attending the need for the county to have funds through garbage collection in order to keep maintenance and services in place relating to the sanitation department.
“We had an almost $100,000 problem with the scales up there (at the transfer station) that wasn’t anticipated,” Hayes said.
The cost of replacing the scales started at $67,000, but the county road department had to build up a foundation and bring in temporary scales in the meantime. This brought the total cost to between $90,000 and $95,000, Hayes pointed out.
“This is why we’re having to look at an increase for this (service),” he said.
“As you all know, we are having problem collecting garbage bills in Winston County,” Hayes pointed out. “We have to redo our trailers that we haul to at the subtitle D, or solid waste landfill in Dora.”
The county has not increased fees residents pay for garbage collection service in at least the past eight years, Hayes explained.
In 1993, garbage rates residents paid per month were $8.50, with 60 percent of the residents not paying their garbage bills, Hayes explained.
At that time, the county increased the garbage collection fees per month from $8.50 to $12, Hayes further explained to the residents.
“There hasn’t been an increase since 2011,” said Hayes. “It went to $13.25 a month.”
Hayes then informed the audience the commission was considering another $1.50 increase making the total residents pay per month $14.75. This will increase the quarterly bills from $39.75 to $44.25, an increase of $4.50 per quarter.
The increase, Hayes said, was not as high as the fee some surrounding counties charge for garbage collection service.
“We have a transfer station and we need some equipment,” he said.
Hayes then asked for comments from those attending the public hearing, receiving mixed views on the issue.
“I think we have a good group that seem to be conscientious. They pick up a lot of stuff. I have no problem with it,” noted Houston resident Tom Grubbs.
Hayes stressed the urgency of people paying their garbage collection fees.
“We don’t pay our power bill, doctor bill or car payments like that,” Hayes stressed.
“This is what we’re running into. I have a list of folks that the girls (in the sanitation office) are calling, about eight people a day,” he added. “We are taking out warrants against people who are not going to work with us at all.
“We’re trying to collect the money because it is not fair for the people who pay their garbage bills. It’s just not fair,” Hayes pointed out.
On the county’s east side, Cullman Electric Co-op collects garbage fees on each customer’s bill. The county, in turn, pays the Co-op approximately 80 cents per customer for this service, according to Hayes. On the west side of the county, Alabama Power does not offer garbage bill collection services, Hayes added.
Concerning the increase in rates, he added, “Nobody likes a raise. I don’t like to do it.”
Cummings said that last year, Waste Management charged the county 60 cents a ton for the county to dispose at the landfill, according to the Consumer Price Index which can change every year.
“I was trying my best to keep the increase under a dollar,” Cummings added. He noted that the county has around eight sanitation trucks running daily, costing $140,000 each.
“We’ve got well over a million and a half, dollars worth of equipment we have to replace,” said Cummings. “And all of it’s getting old. We’ve just been getting by.
“My feeling is the people who are not paying the garbage, they come over here a year later, catch up and pay what they owe. I think we need to start charging monthly late fees,” Cummings pointed out.
“I agree with that. We never have done that, but I agree with that,” responded Hayes.
“The people that just want to come and pay once every two, four or five years need to be penalized,” Cummings added.
“If everything was paid up today, we would not have enough intake to cover the outgoing,” he added. “If everyone was paying their bill, we’d be struggling still to collect the equipment we need to and pay the bills we need to with the money at $13.75 a month.”
Resident Jack Brock then spoke out. “I just came because I thought it wasn’t fair for us to pay a garbage bill and people just sit back and not pay theirs.”
“I can assure you we are addressing that,” responded Hayes. “I can assure you we are pursuing this and the judicial system is helping us.”
Resident Jim Laman wondered how the increase would affect elderly people who do not have a lot of garbage.
“They are all going to have to pay the same price as someone that goes through a lot (of garbage),” Laman said.
Hayes responded that older residents meeting certain guidelines have a social security exemption, but residents must sign up for this service.
Resident Sandra McCullar spoke out that she had intended to sign up for the social security exemption, but had not done it.
“Now, they are wanting me to pay for garbage collection. It comes to $79.95, $80 that I have to have,” McCullar pointed out.
Hayes responded, “I am sorry you’re having trouble. You’ve got to be able to keep up with it.”
In the past, if a customer was close to making their exemption, the county could grant the exemption, but the Alabama Attorney General advised the county could not do this, so that action was stopped, Hayes explained to her.
“When we got that notice, we had to stop,” Hayes told McCullar. “It tied our hands. We were just trying to live and let live.”
“It’s in the state law, how you have to handle it,” added Commission Attorney Hobby Manasco. “The county has to follow state law.”
“So we can’t extend the deadline,” Hayes told McCullar.
“So how can you expect to get money from somebody? That’s the reason they are on the exemption to start with, because they live at poverty level,” McCullar then asked. “What is the bottom line on the whole thing? It is jail?”
“I wouldn’t think it would be jail,” responded Hayes. “If they have a warrant on them, you have to address the problem.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do today,” responded McCullar.
She then presented a list of her bills and expenses to Manasco, showing what she had left after everything was paid.
“You can’t get blood from a turnip,” McCullar said.
“I don’t have an answer for you on that,” Hayes said. “We don’t have the authority. If the commission did that, it would be breaking the law.”
Resident Joey Garrison then asked the commission, “Is this run like a business?”
“We try to,” Hayes responded. “But we have to go by county and state laws.”
Everett noted the cost of materials and parts has increased.
“We employ a lot of people in our county who work for the sanitation department,” Everett said.
“I am not for increasing to $1.50 unless we can get our money from the people who owe us,” Everett pointed out. “We are going to have to hold a stern hand in collecting our money.
“I am not for increases. I am for helping people who need help. I am also for paying my bills, and I encourage all the citizens of Winston County to pay your garbage bill so we can keep...this good service,” Everett continued.
Garrison then referred to notices in the local newspaper of people not paying their property taxes.
“Why can’t we put that in there on sanitation,” Garrison said. “Shame some people and let them know, hey we know you owe this. Get down here and pay it.”
Everett said the commission had discussed that option.
Garrison then mentioned the commission offer a bank draft for residents to have to pay their garbage rates. Commissioners did not respond to this suggestion.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.