A Macon-Bibb County committee approved a change in how garbage and recycling fees are billed after adding an exception for the disabled and some seniors.
The commission’s Committee of the Whole voted 6-3 to move the ordinance changing services to annual billing onto next week’s commission agenda. The proposal would mean all parcels with residential structures would be assessed the fee.
The goal is to have the garbage fee collections mirror the higher rate of property tax collections, officials have said.
“We can determine fairly easily whether there is a developed structure on a lot,” Mayor Robert Reichert said. “What’s harder for us to figure out is whether someone is living there 24/7, 365 or intermittently. With annualized (billing) it goes and says any lot with a house on it is billed.”
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The amendment added Tuesday would allow people 62 years or older who fall into certain income guidelines and the fully disabled to continue making quarterly payments. The amendment came at the request of Commissioner Joe Allen.
“If they want to pay quarterly instead of annually, they ought to be able to do it,” he said. “Some people can’t afford to pay $200 when their (property) taxes are due.”
There were some detractors Tuesday to the section of the measure outlining higher fees. The ordinance calls for increasing the monthly rate from $20 to $22 in 2019, and in subsequent years the fee would be based on inflation. Those rising costs, coupled with a 2016 fee increase for garbage and recycling services, are unfair to residents, Commissioner Elaine Lucas said.
Lucas and Commissioners Virgil Watkins and Bert Bivins voted against the ordinance.
“We just increased folks’ garbage fees,” Lucas said. “We may be able to pay our fees, but our constituents may not be able to. I’m not opposed to progress, but when we sit down here we’re representing people. I can’t in good conscience vote for this.”
Other county officials counter that the fee jump is necessary to offset rising costs, which are now being subsidized by the general fund. Macon-Bibb could also save money by not having to print the bills several times a year.
The solid waste department had a $1.4 million deficit in fiscal 2016. The county is also losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from garbage services, said Julie Moore, assistant county manager for budget and planning.
If approved by commissioners Tuesday, the first annual bill would cover 15 months of service from October 2017 through 2018. Tax Commissioner Wade McCord said the first bill will be printed separately from the property tax bill. That would mean 2019 is when garbage and recycling fees are listed with the property tax bill.
“Whatever you decide that’s what I’m here to support,” McCord said Tuesday. “It’s not going to change whether I bill annually or quarterly. I’m going to work with taxpayers.”
Also, even with annual billing property owners with mortgages will essentially be making monthly payments through their escrow account, officials said.
The shift in how garbage fees are collected last changed in 2006, when the process moved from the Macon Water Authority to the tax commissioner’s office, with the goal of boosting a lackluster 73 percent collection rate. The Macon-Bibb County code says the tax commissioner has the ability to place liens on properties if an owner is delinquent on garbage fees.
In January 2016, the county’s new solid waste plan included the implementation of a countywide recycling program. Under the agreement, Advanced Disposal collects garbage while Macon-Bibb takes in recycling, debris and other large items.
In other business Tuesday. Each of these items were passed by a committee and will be on the Tuesday commission agenda:
▪ A resolution establishing “Jason Aldean Way” along a portion of Pine Street between Spring and New streets. The designation would be a way to honor the Macon native and country music star’s contribution to Children’s Hospital, Navicent Health.
▪ A $2.25 million construction agreement for a fire station and sheriff’s precinct that would be built at 4036 Napier Ave.
▪ A declaration of intent to issue $35 million in bonds that would allow work to start on the next round of special purpose local option sales tax projects.