Can of worms

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An Augusta Commission subcommittee is looking to give owners of unoccupied, boarded-up houses a break on garbage fees, but it might be tricky given the city's dual method of charging for the service.

The working plan involves a 50 percent discount on the $287 per year fee charged to suburban properties and waiving the $92 per year fee charged to those within the pre-consolidation Augusta city limits, whose owners would still pay something toward trash pickup out of the urban district millage add-on, according to Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson.

But under the current system, most urban customers pay less than half for trash service than what suburban customers pay. And even with the varying discounts being proposed, a boarded-up home in the suburbs would still pay more for the service than a house of equal value in the old city.

"At this point, it's still a concept that needs some evaluation," Mr. Johnson said.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said if the proposal moves forward, he'll fight it.

"It's not apples to apples," he said. "It's still isn't 50 percent here and 50 percent there."

Complaints from two owners of vacant homes about being charged for a service they don't use prompted Augusta Commissioner Jimmy Smith, chairman of the Engineering Services committee, to form a subcommittee last week to look into amending city code.

Currently, if a house has water or electricity hooked up, the owner gets charged for garbage pickup on their tax bill, regardless of whether a bin is being filled and regardless of whether a bin is even present.

Last week Barbara Coping, who owns a house on Cornell Drive off Olive Road, asked commissioners to waive her 2008 garbage fees. The house's windows and doors are boarded, it has been empty since 2004, there's no can outside, yet she's being charged $287 per year. She said she owes $324.31 for 2008, including interest and penalties.

In April, Rhodia Bradley made a similar complaint about her home on Second Avenue, also off Olive Road.

Both homes are outside the old city limits.

In each case, Mr. Johnson told the Engineering Services committee that the houses had electricity running, so under city ordinance, his hands were tied. Ms. Coping said she has power hooked up so she can work on the house and get it ready to be rented. Ms. Bradley said she needs power to keep her security system on.

Commissioner and Engineering Services committee member J.R. Hatney pushed for waivers for both women, saying it's not fair to charge people for something they don't use. He suggested homes without water or sewer service be exempted from the fee, but Mr. Johnson said that won't work because some customers in rural areas use wells and septic tanks.

The subcommittee -- comprised of Mr. Johnson, Mr. Smith, Commissioner Corey Johnson, City Administrator Fred Russell and staff attorney Andrew MacKenzie -- met for the first time Tuesday. A concept floated was to cut the fee in half for houses that have "mothball" permits through the city's License and Inspection Department, meaning they're unoccupied and have been properly sealed and secured, Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said he doesn't want to waive the fee completely because vacant homes still generate lawn clippings and bulk waste such as discarded furniture, which gets picked up if left by the curb.

But reducing charges fairly won't be easy, and the reasons date back to the 1996 city-county consolidation.

Initially, residents in the old county hired private trash haulers, and those within the old city limits paid for city service through the Urban Services tax rate, a millage add-on justified by such now-obsolete factors as better police and fire protection, street lights and payments on city debts that have since been paid off.

When the Augusta Commission voted to expand garbage service into the old county in 2001, effectively making city trash service compulsory for all Augusta homeowners, a flat fee of $195 per year was added for suburban properties. The service couldn't be factored into the millage for suburban homes because, to cover the cost of citywide service, the millage would have had to surpass the tax cap.

Then in 2005, with the trash service fund in the hole by $4 million, the city added an $81 per year fee to urban residents and raised the suburban fee to $276. The fees have since been raised to $92 and $287.

Because property taxes vary by assessed home values, so do trash bills when urban garbage fees come out of millage. In 2008, the millage levied on urban property owners was 36.59. For suburban owners, it was 30.15.

On the whole, residents in the old city limits pay far less for garbage service than suburban residents. An analysis by The Augusta Chronicle in 2007 found that more than 90 percent of urban property owners pay less for trash pickup than their suburban counterparts, and that an urban homeowner's property would have to be valued at at least $308,000 to be paying the equivalent trash fee of what every suburban homeowner pays.

On the same token, even with the respective trash fee discounts at 100 and 50 percent, and even with urban taxpayers still contributing to the garbage service through millage, owners of boarded-up homes in the suburbs would still pay more than their counterparts in the urban district.

Mr. Smith said the committee will meet a second time after Mr. Russell and Mr. MacKenzie look into the legal implications of fee waivers.

Mr. Bowles said he not only dislikes the concept of mothballed homes creating unequal savings for various property owners, he doesn't like the city charging unequal rates for trash service in the first place.

"Sooner or later, we're gonna' get sued," he said. "My solution is to allow people to have private haulers. It's a lot cheaper."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

GARBAGE FEE, DISCOUNT INEQUITIES

An Augusta Commission subcommittee is considering discounts on garbage fees for owners of empty, boarded-up homes. But giving discounts fairly will be tough because trash fees aren't levied equitably in the first place.

HOW IT WORKS

Trash charge for properties within the old, pre-consolidation Augusta city limits:

- $92 per year fee

- An added Urban Services tax rate, charged for services including garbage pickup. In 2008, the millage was 30.15 for old county properties and 36.59 for old city properties

Trash charge for properties in the old Richmond County:

- $287 per year fee

PROPOSAL ON THE TABLE

If homeowner has a "mothball" permit from the License and Inspection Department, reduce the trash fee by half -- to $143.50 -- if it's a suburban property, and by 100 percent if it's an urban property.

A HYPOTHETICAL APPLICATION

Take a mothballed house valued at $20,000, with a 40 percent taxable value of $8,000, putting it in the urban district in one scenario, and in the suburbs in another scenario, then calculating garbage fee savings under the subcommittee's proposal. (For clarity, streetlight fees are not factored in.)

Urban

- $8,000 x .03659 (millage) = $292.72

- Add a $92 garbage fee for a tax bill of $384.72

- Since it has a mothball permit, drop the $92 fee to get back to $292.72

- Discounted tax bill = $292.72

Suburban

- $8,000 x .03015 (millage) = $241.20

- Add a $287 per year garbage fee for a tax bill of $528.20

- With a mothball permit, cut the garbage fee in half, to $143.50, to get down to $384.70

- Discounted tax bill = $384.70

BOTTOM LINE: The property in the suburbs pays more for trash fees, even with a mothball discount.

Comments (21) Add comment
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Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 06/19/09 - 12:49 am
0
0
How about a discount to those

How about a discount to those who actually maintain their properties and keep them looking great for the community - Are you people so out of touch with reality? First, your fees are ridiculous as it is and most would prefer private service options but you in govt. think you can do it better. In reality, it is worse and costs more. Additionally, even if you keep the service as it is, most customers do not need trash picked up twice weekly and you should be able to cut the expenses by at leat 40% by reducing pick-ups to one day a week instead of two. Or if you were able to keep up with it logistically, have 2 pick ups as an option at an additional expense.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 06/19/09 - 12:50 am
0
0
And...what about people who

And...what about people who have rental homes who keep the property looking good, etc. but no tenants - do they have to pay for your trash service if you change the rules - if not, prepare for law suits, you are use to them anyways.

Jim-bob
1
Points
Jim-bob 06/19/09 - 02:01 am
0
0
Augusta - The Welfare City

Augusta - The Welfare City

dhd1108
1
Points
dhd1108 06/19/09 - 05:30 am
0
0
seriously, between me and the

seriously, between me and the roommate we have enough trash for maybe one pickup a week. why do we have this crap contracted out?

JBP
0
Points
JBP 06/19/09 - 05:47 am
0
0
If you are maintaining your

If you are maintaining your unoccupied property, you will still generate some trash. I agree with the previous posts, once a week is sufficient.

dashiel
176
Points
dashiel 06/19/09 - 07:17 am
0
0
Once a week is plenty but

Once a week is plenty but commissioners would probably approve half the trash pickups for the same money. This is a no-brainer for politicians with no brains. I much prefer that homeowners be free to choose who handles their disposal. The current service is deluxe but do people who can't afford cable television really need gift-wrapped garbage?

WhiteboyforJenkins
0
Points
WhiteboyforJenkins 06/19/09 - 07:28 am
0
0
Once a week would be great

Once a week would be great and a really money saver. I would also double the fees, not discount the fees, for empty homes. Maybe this would encourage the absentee landlords to do something with the property rather than let it sit.

mad_max
0
Points
mad_max 06/19/09 - 07:32 am
0
0
Seriously, $287 a year is way

Seriously, $287 a year is way too much for trash collection. What a ripoff the county taxpayer. Seriously, all county residents should be paying the same fee for trash collection. Many of the rural residents had this forced on us, only need once a week service, and are strongarm robbed for triple the amount of what city dwellers are charged. I had a private collector back when the county let this crooked kick back contract my trash collection fee tripled for no reason except for payoffs and kickbacks. $287 is one of the highest fees I can find that any municiplality charges it's residents for trash collection. It is unbelievably high and we take it with a whimper because we have no control and no competition. Based on my limited research trash collection should cost us about $150 a year. Everyone should pay the same. And if they want to give a discount for unoccupied houses they could cut that in half if we were all paying the same FAIR price and not an artificial inflated price so that somebody in contracting can get their kickback. $287 a year for trash collection is absolute robbery.

itwuddntme
0
Points
itwuddntme 06/19/09 - 07:37 am
0
0
Any service the Augusta

Any service the Augusta government provides can be found cheaper and of better quality privately.

Georgiais1
0
Points
Georgiais1 06/19/09 - 07:43 am
0
0
I have trash pick up once a

I have trash pick up once a week in CC by a privite company. It comes out to $240.00 per year ($60.00 per quarter)....What the problem?

Riverman1
90653
Points
Riverman1 06/19/09 - 08:11 am
0
0
I say line up garbabge trucks

I say line up garbabge trucks with honking horns and that back up warning sound they make and screaming sanitation workers in front of houses that don't pay up. Make it look like the towns people coming to get Frankenstein in that old black and white movie with the modern trucks thrown in for effect.

dashiel
176
Points
dashiel 06/19/09 - 08:14 am
0
0
The problem is some people

The problem is some people have more money than they've got sense.

AAQueen
18
Points
AAQueen 06/19/09 - 09:16 am
0
0
We have trash pickup once a

We have trash pickup once a week, one container, but is charge extra 15.00 a month for a second container.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 06/19/09 - 10:13 am
0
0
This is a case of legalized
Unpublished

This is a case of legalized stealing on behalf of our glorious Commission who by the way prostituted out 12 MILLION in public money to special interest to get a vote passed earlier THIS WEEK. These numbers do not even make sense to me. It looks like their taxing people more who live in the inner city and then trying to balance it out with a lower garbage fee.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 06/19/09 - 10:13 am
0
0
Georgias#1 that is the reason
Unpublished

Georgias#1 that is the reason people are moving to Columbia County as soon as they can. I predict by 2015 Richmond County will be left to government housing and a few stragglers.

mable8
2
Points
mable8 06/19/09 - 10:15 am
0
0
Augusta-Richmond County needs

Augusta-Richmond County needs to get out of the trash business and let the homeowners select the carrier THEY want. Since ARC can't operate the city/county in a sound business manner, how can they even contemplate the notion they are able to operate trash disposal? Just another example of why government should stay out of the free market enterprise.

onehotdog
0
Points
onehotdog 06/19/09 - 10:50 am
0
0
Trash pick up in Huntsville,

Trash pick up in Huntsville, AL (twice a week) is $180 a year. Also, if you leave bigger items out by the street, they pick those up for free.

Ode
5
Points
Ode 06/19/09 - 11:02 am
0
0
What a bunch of hypocrites.

What a bunch of hypocrites. Some commissioners don't think it is fair to charge someone for a service they don't use? Really? Do those who don't burden the educational system with children get to stop paying taxes that subsidize public education? Do those who don't drive on roads get to stop paying taxes to maintain roads? Do those of us who don't get subsidized food, housing, and weekly welfare/unemployment allowance get to stop paying taxes that fund these entities? Oh the hypocrisy.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 06/19/09 - 11:31 am
0
0
mable8 this is business as
Unpublished

mable8 this is business as usual for the Commission. I suspect one or more of them knows someone in the trash disposal business.

pointstoponder
461
Points
pointstoponder 06/19/09 - 12:42 pm
0
0
$287 a year for garbage, yard

$287 a year for garbage, yard waste and appliances is not bad. There are many reasons not to trust the commission, but ther trash service is not one of them. That said, the disparity between old urban and suburban needs to be eliminated.

emergencyfan
0
Points
emergencyfan 06/19/09 - 03:00 pm
0
0
Recycling, too.

Recycling, too.

Tots
26205
Points
Tots 06/20/09 - 09:12 am
0
0
Ode@12:02pm.Really liked your

Ode@12:02pm.Really liked your post.

Tots
26205
Points
Tots 06/20/09 - 09:22 am
0
0
Sounds like Betty is trying

Sounds like Betty is trying to get out of paying for trash service on her run down homes.Why else would this even be considered.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 06/24/09 - 01:22 pm
0
0
the 287 dollars for trash

the 287 dollars for trash fees is just another way to raise much desired revenue to help balance the budget

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