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Garbage fees increased in pre-consolidation city limits

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 9:06 AM
Last updated Wednesday, June 4, 2014 7:49 AM
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Included on estimated annual tax bills mailed to Augusta property owners May 9 was another surprise affecting at least 13,000 households inside the pre-consolidation city limits.

On the notices was a fee increase – raising the base rate for garbage and recycling pickup in the old city limits from $115.50 to $310.50 – but no commensurate decrease in the millage-based portion of urban garbage bills, an amount that varies based on property values.

“That really makes it unconstitutional,” said former Au­gus­ta Commission member Joe Bowles, a longtime critic of Augusta’s unbalanced tax and fee system, which charges residents in the old city limits differently from those in the suburbs for the same set of services, despite consolidation in 1996.

Barry Speth, a single retiree living downtown on a fixed income, was puzzling over why his estimated tax bill had risen since last year when he noticed the garbage fee increase, which follows last year’s shift from twice-weekly to weekly collection.

“Some days I don’t even have enough garbage for them to pick up,” Speth said. “Yet I’m getting this kind of bill?”

Finance Director Donna Wil­­liams said the notices are merely estimates based on last year’s millage and this year’s fees as required by Georgia law.

The commission could still adjust the “urban services” tax rate to account for the fee increases before tax bills go out this fall, or make other adjustments, she said.

Complicating the issue, which has been studied by a handful of commission committees over the years, is the fact that the urban services millage is charged against every property whether it uses city garbage service or not and includes allocations for fire protection and streetlights in the old city limits that would likely need a replacement revenue stream if the tax were eliminated.

Williams said she is ready to provide the amount of an urban services millage reduction required to cover the $195 increase in fees when the commission discusses the item at its regular 2 p.m. meeting today.

Environmental Services Director Mark John­son, who has the fee increase and two other garbage-related requests on today’s agenda, won’t be at the meeting but said his deputy, Lori Videtto, and Williams can handle the discussion.

“We should be charging similarly for similar-type service,” Johnson said, adding that there’s no way to compensate owners who have paid too much or too little – in the case of those whose homes are worth very little, or are exempt from taxes because of age or status – in a way likely to satisfy everyone.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he hoped to refer the item to a future committee meeting because Johnson will be out.

The Engineering Services committee declined to discuss the item last week, referring it and the two other garbage items to the full commission without recommendation today so Johnson wouldn’t have to repeat himself.

“There are so many cloudy things that we’ve done with this government,” Lockett said.

Another cause of consternation among owners of multiple properties in Augusta is a new item included on notices – a $155.25 fee for garbage and recycling on vacant lots.

Last week, Lockett proposed that the commission consider implementing an exemption for properties with no dwelling on them, with an estimated impact on proposed revenue of $1.3 million.

A final garbage item going before the commission today would reinstitute curbside tire pickup on a monthly basis.

Despite a decade or more of weekly curbside collection of two tires per household, Augusta still has a scrap tire problem, and much of the blame likely rests on businesses that illegally dump or thieves who strip metal from tires to recycle but leave the tires behind, Johnson said.

As a result, new monthly “tire events” aren’t fully disposing of Augusta’s scrap tires. Johnson has suggested hiring a firm to collect tires at the curb monthly.

The city recycles the tires, paying either Ridge Recycling or Amaresco to haul them away at $75 to $90 a ton.

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Riverman1 06/03/14 - 09:38 am
Old City vs. County

It's interesting that even with all the emphasis on consolidated Richmond County now being a city the reality still raises its head.

AFjoe 06/03/14 - 09:49 am
Flat rate

Use the KISS (keep it simple stupid)method. One price for all, pick up tires along with the rest of the trash. RC does not need a contract to pick up tires.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 06/03/14 - 10:09 am
Shame on you, Commissioner Lockett

From the story:

Environmental Services Director Mark John­son, who has the fee increase and two other garbage-related requests on today’s agenda, won’t be at the meeting but said his deputy, Lori Videtto, and Finance Director Donna Williams can handle the discussion. . . . Commissioner Bill Lockett said he hoped to refer the item to a future committee meeting because Johnson will be out.

When people call Augusta government dysfunctional, it is because of bobbing and weaving, shuckin’ and jivin’ delay tactics such as this one by Commissioner Bill Lockett. There is no reason to postpone the discussion when the department head has made his position clear and has lined up two responsible Augusta managers to answer commissioners’ questions this week.

The solution is simple: have one rate for residential pickup, whether the residence is a mansion or a hovel. Then, lower the "urban services district" taxes by the amount that is going to garbage service at this time. It is not rocket science, but it could become Lockett magic if he is not reined in by his fellow commissioners.

grinder48 06/03/14 - 10:40 am
Speth is Right

Like Speth (4th paragraph), I live in the pre-consolidation city limits and generate almost no garbage. Why should I have to pay this ridiculous increase?

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 06/03/14 - 01:40 pm

Pretty soon they'll monkey with the garbage pickup service so that it becomes means tested. You'll have to fill out a form that tells the city your income and how many dependents and so on. Then those that qualify get a subsidy for their garbage pickup tax. They can call it Lockettcare.

corgimom 06/04/14 - 07:05 am
AFjoe, tires have to be

AFjoe, tires have to be disposed of separately, they cannot be picked up with the normal trash.

nocnoc 06/04/14 - 08:55 am
Spend more, decease services

Spend more, decease services and increase Taxes

When ARC eliminated the PRIVATE Waste Haulers they eliminated any reason for the National Waste hauler that bought their way in, to be competitive in pricing . Price increases are the normal.

Ask anyone in Gwinnett Co. where they pulled out the same stunt back in 2004

That pretty much says it all.

itsanotherday1 06/04/14 - 09:21 am
I still don't understand why

I still don't understand why they need to be in the garbage business to begin with. Turn it over to private haulers and let people pay for what they need.

CabisKhan 06/04/14 - 11:18 am

We're going to have a lot of tires decorating our neighborhood,s curbs now on a permanent basis.

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