LEESBURG, Ga. -- Following the Lee County Commission's vote last Tuesday to repeal the ordinance that would have required garbage fees to be placed on ad valorem tax bills, the question now becomes what's next?
Even as a Georgia Supreme Court ruling on the case hangs in the balance, many citizens are wondering if the status quo -- and with it almost a half-million dollars a year in uncollected fees -- will resume or if the threat of removing the garbage receptacles of those whose fees are 60 days or more past due will impact the collections.
County Administrator Tony Massey said Monday morning that's a decision he and staff will make soon.
"I'll meet soon with Utilities Services and Code Enforcement to come up with a game plan, but as of right now we have no direction from the commission on whether to move forward with removing the trash receptacles of those who are 60 days behind in their garbage fees," Massey said. "Our job is to enforce the policy decisions made by the board, and if they instruct us to enforce the (60-day) provision in the new ordinance, that's what we'll do.
"We've got no feedback on taking the containers yet other than that of Commissioner (Dennis) Roland, who says he'd like to see us start taking action."
Indeed, it was Roland who pushed for the commission to start putting together a backup fee collection plan when public outcry against the ordinance reached its peak. The District 1 commissioner said Monday he sees no reason not to move forward with the provisions of the new ordinance.
"As far as I can see, there's no reason not to (start taking the receptacles of those whose bills are 60 days or more past due)," Roland said. "If we're going to take action, we need to take action or we'll end up going down the same road we've been on.
"I'd like to see people go before the judge and come up with a payment plan, but I think we should also let them know that if they don't keep their payments current they could face 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Until we show people we mean business, they're not going to pay their bills."
Utilities Services Director LeClaire Bryan was not available Monday morning, but the department's clerk, Teresa Dicks, said there were "a lot" of county customers who were 60 days or more past due in paying garbage fees.
"We started compiling a preliminary list, and there are a lot of people," Dicks said. "There's still work we have to do, but I think it's safe to say the number is above 600."
Meanwhile, both County Attorney Jimmy Skipper and Tax Commissioner Susan Smith said Monday they'd like the Supreme Court to rule on her appeal of a Superior Court ruling that she enact the now repealed ordinance. Skipper said he and Smith's attorney, Jerome Adams of Douglas, had been given five days from last Thursday to file briefs stating whether the case is now moot.
"Personally, I'd like to see the Supreme Court go ahead and decide the case," Skipper said. "A lot of counties in the state are doing the same thing Lee County was attempting to do, so a ruling has statewide implications. I've talked with (Lee County officials), and they've agreed that we should continue the case so that the court can determine if this is a valid law."
Smith, who said Monday the commission's decision to rescind the garbage fee ordinance was a "victory for the citizens of Lee County," said she too would instruct Adams to ask that the case move forward.
"I don't think this will be over until the Supreme Court makes a ruling," she said. "Yes, it affects other counties in the state, but (a definitive ruling) is the only way this will never come up here again.
"I also believe it's important that citizens in the county who were opposed to the ordinance stay involved. They need to make their voices heard (on nonbinding questions about the validity of the ordinance that will be on primary ballots July 31)."
Massey said that moving forward with the case would not impact legal charged to the county.
"The county attorney has advised us that legal costs in this case have already been incurred," he said. "And since the nonbinding vote in July could impact whether the commission decides to reinstate the former ordinance or move forward, I think it's important that a (Supreme Court) ruling be made."