LEESBURG, Ga. — The long-debated and often reviled garbage fee ordinance in Lee County is now officially dead.
The Lee County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday evening at its business meeting to repeal the ordinance, putting in its place a measure that gives county utilities officials the authority to remove garbage containers of customers whose bills are 60 days or more past due.
But one commissioner offered a passionate explanation of the commission’s decision to enact the ordinance before the vote to repeal it was taken.
“During a public forum that this board initiated shortly after Bill (Williams), Betty (Johnson) and I were sworn in, a citizen from my district stood before us and said we ‘shoved this ordinance down people’s throats’,” Commission Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge said. “I resented that statement then, and I resent it now.
“As I sit here in this chair, I am no longer Rick Muggridge; I am the voice of the people of District 4. Another person from my district, an elderly lady, told me she supports (the garbage fee ordinance) because she pays her bills. Lee County is full of such people, and that’s why I am on this board, to represent their interests. We’ve been elected to serve the will of the people of this county, and you can say what you want — and I know some will — but I know the hearts of this board are pure.”
The action by the board all but ends a contentious piece of legislation passed by the commission in May of 2009 but never implemented. Tax Commissioner Susan Smith initially asked for additional time before placing garbage fees on ad valorem tax bills, but when the commission decided to move forward with the legislation, she refused to comply.
The county took Smith to Lee Superior Court and won a ruling that required her to impose the legislation. Smith appealed the ruling, and her case is pending before the Georgia Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, a group in the county started a petition that they hoped would force a recall vote on the ordinance. The Constitutionally mandated action required signatures of 20 percent of the county’s registered voters, which the group collected and presented to Magistrate Court Judge John Wheaton last week.
Also, leaders of both the county Republican and Democratice parties announced plans to place nonbinding questions about the repeal of the ordinance on ballots for the July 31 primary elections.
County Attorney Jimmy Skipper, who explained the new ordinance that will replace the now-repealed garbage fee legislation at Tuesday’s meeting, has said the repeal of the ordinance makes any action taken by outside groups moot.
“There is no longer an ordinance to repeal,” he said.
Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said the board chose to take the action so that the “will of the people” would be adhered to.
“This trash problem has overshadowed a lot of other issues for months now,” he said. “But this board took positive action to try and stop $450,000 in uncollected fees every year. Losses like this could force us to increase the county’s millage rate, and no one wants that.
“We have rescinded the ordinance out of respect for the citizens of this county we were elected to represent. We will adhere to their will with the July primary vote and then move forward.”
In other action at the meeting, the commission voted to approve $18,163 in budgeted funds for a new truck to be used by the Parks and Recreation Department; appointed John Woodward to fill a term on the Lee Planning Commission, and named Duffy, Williams, County Clerk Christi Dockery and Finance Director Heather Kittrell to the Lee County Community Foundation Board of Trustees for two-year terms.
Commissioners also heard a presentation by Brad Ray on the area Court Appointed Special Advocates program and learned from Economic Development Director Winston Oxford that the county had been designated a “work-ready community.”
“Ms. (Sandra) Parker (with the county school system) has got us work ready, now Mr. Oxford needs to get some industry in here to put our folks to work,” Commissioner Dennis Roland said.