Garbage fee draws crowd

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

LEESBURG, Ga. -- A line was clearly drawn in the sand at the Lee County Commission's work session Tuesday night.

W.F. Griffin, chairman of the county's Board of Tax Assessors, drew a standing ovation as he "respectfully request(ed) that the commission rescind the ordinance adopted 12 May, 2009, which added garbage fees to the annual ad valorem tax bill, and take such action as appropriate to reinstate the original implementing ordinance."

In the end, though, the four commissioners present did not blink.

"We understand your position," Chairman Ed Duffy said, "but there does not appear to be any desire on the Board of Commissioners to repeal the ordinance we passed in 2009."

The crowd came to hear Griffin's request for a repeal of an ordinance passed by the commission that would add garbage fees to citizens' end-of-year tax bills as a way to cut down on delinquent payments that officials say are costing the county some $400,000 a year. They left with an idea of the unified resolve of the commission.

"I wish this crowd had been here to applaud us at the last meeting when we discussed the budget," Commissioner Dennis Roland said. "The bad thing is that in the five years Mr. Duffy and I have been on this commission, we have not raised your taxes a penny. We've increased our fund balance from $1 million to $8 million, and we've resurfaced as many roads as we could.

"But we're going to go down not as the commission that did all these good things, but as the commission that added garbage fees to the tax bills."

Most in the auditorium left after Roland's comments, but before they did they heard responses from all four members of the board present.

"Until you visit Utility Services -- or any other department in the county -- you have no way of knowing the extent of that department's duties," County Commissioner Betty Johnson, the county's former tax commissioner, said. "It sure would be nice if people who don't understand the duties of these departments would try to get along and not be so critical."

Commissioner Bill Williams said the board is being criticized for tackling an issue that has gone unchecked for years.

"Uncollected garbage fees have been a problem since the county started curbside pickup, and this is the first commission in the county that has addressed this problem," Williams said. "It's just not fair for the 80 percent of the people in the county who pay their bills to continue subsidizing the 20 percent who don't."

Commissioner Rick Muggridge was absent from the meeting.

An air of anticipation filled the room as Griffin was called to the front of the auditorium.

"We have just celebrated 235 years of our freedom and independence -- a freedom that provides for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Griffin started. "Unreasonable intrusion into the management of the personal responsibilities of our homes and families is not a welcome event."

Griffin called the implementation of the original 25-year contract the county signed with the Crisp County Waste Management Authority a "very transparent process." He then added, "Such was not the case in your decision to rescind the implementing ordinance."

"This action has the appearance and impact of an ineffective solution to a problem not clearly defined," Griffin said. "Your most clearly identified focus has not been payment by customers properly billed.

You have not addressed the impact of customers not billed.

"After review (of the contract), it appears the solution to deficiencies in the overall management of garbage service is to properly administer the contract. The provisions properly executed will provide a high level of integrity in contract performance and accurate customer identification for service and billing."

Griffin drew murmurs from the audience when he added, "There has been a 32 percent increase in the cost of services provided compared to a 78 percent increase to the customers."

Duffy told the audience that adding garbage fees to tax bills would include no additional cost to taxpayers.

"Our ultimate goal is to get garbage fees paid and eliminate what we have now, which is the people who won't pay being subsidized by the law-abiding citizens who do," he said.

In other action at the meeting, Phil Robertson with The Mercer Group outlined that company's plan for a job classification and pay study for the county.

"We started a study today that will include positions with the county, the Utilities Authority and the library," Robertson said. "The study will include a classification of positions and the assignment of pay grade. I want to emphasize that we won't compare one position to another,

but we'll look at each position solely as if it's vacant.

"We won't be talking about performance; we'll recommend a pay range for every position through market survey of organizations your employees should be compared with."

Johnson, Roland and County Attorney Jimmy Skipper gave an update on the county's redistricting efforts. Johnson said she, Roland and others, including Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson, had narrowed their focus to one map that comes closest to meeting state and Department of Justice standards.

"In this process, you have to consider two things: racial makeup and deviation," Skipper said. "Because of the county's population and population density, there is no way to draw up a district whose makeup is predominantly black. It just can't be done.

"As far as density, the magic number we're looking for is 5,659. With a population of 28,298, that gets us closest to the 'one-person, one-vote' concept. The map that is favored by your commissioners gives you a deviation of 1.48 percent in District 1, minus 1.84 percent in District 2, 1.01 percent in District 3, minus 1.06 percent in District 4 and .46 percent in District 5. That's pretty close, even for government work."