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Lee garbage ordinance repealed

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.

Comments

Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

This speaks well of the Lee County Commissioners. They listen to the people - even if they don't necessarily agree. That is an extremely difficult thing to do. We could do much worse. You only need look to a certain county, city, school system, and hospital immediately to the South to see how little concern is given for the public's opinion. Good on you, Lee County Commission! Thank You! And this is also a victory for Lee County property owners!

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DoctorDorite 2 years, 5 months ago

Its funny what an forthcomming election will do ! LOL. I still say VOTE'em out, this proves beyond a dought how sleezy they are !!

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

Name a county with a better commission.

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msa651 2 years, 5 months ago

Cartman must be one of the Commissioners,

I say what arrogance in Muggridges speech. Just 1 year ago he and Duffy said never to a request to rescind. Listening to the people of their district???? It took a petition to back them in a corner which they knew they would lose in a binding vote.

How much have they wasted in Court fighting the Tax Commissioner???? Bet its over 500k which they could have better used in the county.

How many times in the last 4 years have they attacked a citizen when they made comments durning the 2 minuets allowed to speak? Muggridge and Duffy have done it a number of times when they didn't like what they heard.

No Mr. Commissioner Cartman, you didn't listen to the people of the county, you were force to.

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

Wrong Mike. I have stated on numerous occasions that I was totally against the unanimous garbage tax ordinance from the beginning. In fact, I signed the petition. Because I might disagree with the Commission, does not make it necessary for me to hate them. My subtle point was simply this: I admire them for rescinding an ordinance they personally believed in - in concession to the will of the people.

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msa651 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't hate the commission either; I disagree with them on some things. The garbage issue for one, they didn't ask, they didn't listen until pushed to. I totally dislike the spin they put out and numbers that don't jive with the facts. Example, they’ve said millions lost, 450k a year unpaid. 20% not paying and the only facts given where the list of people and amounts owed printed in the Ledger. Count the people, add up the amounts. Nowhere close to what the commission have said to the public. WF Griffin asked for and got the true numbers. They don't add up to what the commission has said. True nonpayment rates are only 2 to 3 percent. When I asked a commissioner and am told they never read the ordinance, I also have an issue with that.
The blame game, putting the problem on LeClaire Bryan and saying she is the problem is wrong also. When the only tool you give her is to take those who don't pay to magistrates court. Even with the nonpayment, the county is making more than 400k a year in profit over the cost of the service.
Should the county be in the business of making a profit on garbage service? Then let’s take the new ordinance just passed. Never seen before, not read, and skipped the 3 readings, passed in a wham, bam, thank you manor on only the explanation by Skipper all in a 10 minute period of time with a unanimous vote. After all that went before on the previous ordinance, you would think they would learn, maybe reflect on it a bit longer, try to understand fully all the implications in it before they pass it? Why the rush, sounds like Nancy Pelosi, pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

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willcpa 2 years, 5 months ago

Being a commissioner, I feel a need to correct some your "facts" as stated above. Mr. Griffin was given on 8/22/11 the following information regarding billing and collections for the year ending 6/30/11. A total of $2,460,266.70 was billed for garbage and a total of $2,068,815.58 was collected for these billings. This translates to a collection rate of 84% and a loss of $391,451.12 between the amount billed and the amount collected. This is consistent with what the commission has reported. Your figure of a true 2 or 3% nonpayment rate can not possibly be based upon "fact."

Also, I have no knowledge of any commissioner ever blaming Ms. Bryan for the garbage problem. All Ms. Bryan can do is follow legal channels for collecting this past due money. But there comes a time where we begin to spend more money than we can possibly collect from these delinquent accounts and the commission felt that the most "efficient" way of collecting this money was to place the garbage on the tax bill.

You also falsely state the county is making more than 400K in profit. The only way you can arrive at this figure is to subtract the cost paid to Veola from the amount that we bill for garbage. However, there are many other costs associated with this, such as salaries and benefits for Utility Services employees, postage and printing of monthly billings, etc. If you had included these additional expenses, your conclusion would be different. Having done my own analysis, we are actually losing money on garbage.

Lastly, I would like to clarify your implication that the commission blindly passed this ordinance based upon Mr. Skipper's explanation. I assure you that Mr. Skipper's explanation was for the PUBLIC'S information and not for the COMMISSION'S. This ordinance has been in the works for awhile and every commissioner knew exactly what they had voted for.

I appreciate Cartman's comments regarding this issue and feel that he is being sensible about this. Even though this commission feels that the property tax method is the most efficient and effective way of collecting the past due garbage bills, we are willing to let the voters decide in the non-binding referendum.

This commission has done a lot of good things that have been overshadowed by this garbage issue. I am particulary proud that we have not raised taxes in 6 years. I spend most of the month of May away from my profession working on our budget in order to ensure that taxes are not raised. We have also increased our fund balance for the last 3 years, which is remarkable given the economy. We have also built a new animal shelter and Fire/EMS station, made Grand Island and the Utility Authority self-sufficient and initiiated a road paving program to name a few.

I only wish that there others like Cartman that recognizes this and is willing to forgive us for one thing that he disagrees with us on.

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JustAnotherVoice 2 years, 5 months ago

To Rick Muggridge: Raise the millage rate and include garbage pickup as part of the overall benefits of living in Lee County. Lee County cannot continue to lose $450,000/year!

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reb_arty1863 2 years, 5 months ago

It is simple. Put back the collection sites.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

Will of the people my patootie! Finally, waking up and getting smart is a better explanation. It was being rammed down the throat and when pushback was organized, they decided to do what should have been done long ago--adopt normal business practices.

I was told by someone very close to the process that the commission--and others--labored for years under the misconception that services could not be cutoff for non-payment. Does this sound anything like "smart" work by this and past commissions? There was no reason for the past losses other than mistakes of the commission who wanted to create a revenue stream they controlled--and it didn't work out..

Now that the deal is done, and the loss greatly reduced, will there be a reduction in garbage fees? How can one cut out a loss of over $400,000 and not reduce fees?

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Mr_Heatmiser 2 years, 5 months ago

For the life of me I never could get a grip on why anybody was against this idea. You write your property tax check for $312 more at the end of the year instead of paying $26 every month. Big frickin deal. In return, deadbeats either pay up or the county places a lien on their property. Now, the county will just pick up delinquent accounts' trash cans, and every one of you knows good & well what these people are going to do with their trash when that happens. Yep, nothing like that good old fashioned aroma of a smoldering "burn barrel" to bring property values up in the neighborhood.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

Like we don't have delinquent property tax bills? Can a person pay a tax bill under the structured specific legal framework, and refuse to not pay a fee placed on the bill? If a tax sale is made on the taxes due, can the garbage fee be legally sold at the same time? There is a distinct difference in property tax and a fee and how both are handled legally. If the fee can be collected on a tax bill with no problem, why not put the past amounts on the next tax bill and see what happens--won't get it.

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justme 2 years, 5 months ago

Duffy and his band of CHUMPS didn't give up on the garbage bill collection just like that. There is something that stinks here and it ain't the garbage. I believe Duffy and chumps made dodo in their drawers and are now trying to clean up their mess.

I KNOW YOU ARE READING THIS DUFFY SO DON'T LOOK TO WALK AWAY FROM REELECTION BEING A BIG WINNER.................

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waltspecht 2 years, 5 months ago

So, how would all of you expect the County to pay for those that chose not to pay? You have simply put the burden back on the tax payer. As for the dump sites. Up until about 1984 they were neat clean and maintained. Then they just went to heck with folks dumping stuff on the ground, and emptying dumpsters onto the ground to get aluminum cans. They became an eyesore and stank. I for one don't want to pay to clean-up the illegal dump sites that will appear if the pickup is stopped at non-payers homes. So what is the answer, or do the Commissioners continue to accept this yearly loss and make the Landlords happy and the rest of us mad?

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

If the cans are taken back for non-payment of the garbage bill, where is the loss?

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waltspecht 2 years, 5 months ago

Just where do you think that trash will magically disappear too?

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

The cost to the county is the same whether the cans are picked up or not.

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msa651 2 years, 5 months ago

There is dumping now. We now have 2 code enforement people. Anyone who allows solid waste to build on their property can be cited. The fines for this are much higher than what you get in magistrate court for nonpayment.

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