The Macon-Bibb County Commission will consider at its next full meeting in February whether to add garbage and recycling fees to property tax bills rather than through the tax commissioner’s office where the fees have been collected since 2006. Before that, the fees were collected by the Macon Water Authority. with pretty dismal results. The expected move should up the collection rate above 90 percent where it sits now. The property tax collection rate is 97 percent.
We can’t argue with the logic. Instead of printing and mailing bills quarterly, the fees will simply be added to the property tax bills that are mailed out anyway. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why the collection rate would increase. Any property owner with a mortgage will see their escrow account expand to cover the additional expense. And that means, in some cases, a higher monthly payment.
All of that said, there are a few points in the proposed ordinance that give us pause. First, about that escrow account. A resident could make the case that the garbage and recycling fees are no longer fees at all, but an additional tax, and since the first bill will come in October 2017, many escrow accounts may not have adjusted for the increase and residents will have to come out of their pockets. Certainly, they would have had to do so anyway, but it’s just an added annoyance.
Secondly, the fees will be added by parcel rather than to users, meaning that whether the lot has a structure on it or not, the fee must be paid. The logic, if it can be called that, is an empty lot still has yard waste, leaves and other debris, that has to be trucked away. That will surely be a bone of contention for some property owners.
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Finally, the heart of our disconnect with this effort as it now stands, lies in the automatic increase in the garbage tax. Collection fees were raised to $20 a month just last year and under this proposal would stay at that level until Dec. 31, 2018, but would increase to $22 a month in 2019. But here’s the kicker. In subsequent years the increase would be based on the consumer price index. That simply means that after this ordinance passes, if it passes, any discussion about garbage tax increases is virtually over.
There has been no effort to cover this aspect up. Macon-Bibb County Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkley said, “What we’re doing is building (fee changes) into the ordinance so we don’t have to come back to the commission year after year to cover the costs.”
That’s certainly one way to do it, however, it’s not the way we prefer. Before raising taxes, commissioners should have to explain why. If new equipment is needed or salaries need to be adjusted, those items should be put before the commission for a yea or nay. Every department has to bring forth their budgets annually and priorities have to be set. The Solid Waste Department should not start depending on an automatic increase based on nothing more than the consumer price index. Garbage collection may need more than the index indicates. Still, the job of raising taxes is that of the commission and that is where it should stay.