Grayson adopts amended trash fee

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County residents will pay $3 a week for trash beginning July 1, after the board of supervisors unanimously approved the addition to the Solid Waste Ordinance last Thursday night.

The vote came a day after a public hearing on the proposed charge for trash collection.

It was standing room only as nearly 40 people packed the board room of the courthouse on June 24. One hour into the public comment period, 21 citizens had expressed their concerns with the plan — raising enough concern for the supervisors to table a decision until the following night.

While some citizens opposed the fee altogether — saying they already pay for it and/or couldn’t afford it — others questioned why their low-density multi-family rental units would be required to have a trash Dumpster.

Five different people raised concerns about the mandate to place a bin on their property and the large fee attached.

The original proposal required any multiple residential units — including townhouses, condominiums, apartment complexes and manufactured home parks consisting of four or more residential units — to have at least a 4-yard bin and pay an annual fee of $1,200.

Citizens questioned why that fee wasn't in proportion to the amount of households.

Ron and Ana Catron, for example, own a multi-family housing facility in the county. Ron Catron explained that the sole purpose of the units is to provide housing for single occupants.

In reviewing their trash removal costs, the Catrons said their units never exceed two residential containers or trash cans in any given week.

Ron Catron asked the board why he should pay $1,200 a year, when four separate households in the county — which most likely produce more trash — would pay only $624 a year.

After receiving the comments and taking the evening off, supervisors returned to the topic on Thursday night.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet addressed the issue of multiple residential units and said he believed he had a recommendation that would make it fair across the board.

The changes made to the ordinance include:

• not requiring a multiple residential unit with four to seven units to have a bin.

• billing according to how many units make up the multiple residential unit. Instead of having a range where an owner with eight units would pay the same as an owner with 12 units, the fee will be $3 per week for each residential unit — the same as any other household in the county.

Sweet added that owners taking advantage of the bin are actually getting a bonus. The county provides the bins at no charge, and residents have the ability to throw trash out seven days a week.

“It's a really good benefit to those multi residential owners, and at no additional charge to them,” he continued.

Once a multiple unit residence exceeds seven units — i.e. seven mobile homes or apartments — the owner will be required to place a bin on the site.

Sweet added that county officials will work with owners to locate the bin in the most convenient, logical and safe place on their property.

Supervisors addressed several other concerns at their Thursday meeting that had been brought up during the public hearing the night before.

They discussed whether residents would be charged a fee on vacant lots.

Sweet said the county will use tax map parcel numbers as a method of billing, although a tax map parcel alone does not trigger the bill. Instead, the parcel must contain a residential unit.

While there may be some mistakes in the beginning, Sweet reminded the board that it was a work in progress and that if any citizens felt they were billed for a vacant lot, they could get it cleared up with the county treasurer's office.

When it comes to uninhabited homes, Sweet said that may prove to be a challenge.

He noted that it's difficult to discern when a property is vacant, and when it becomes inhabited. There is no way to bill partially for the time nobody lived there.

Obviously, Sweet said, if a housing unit has no roof and in uninhabitable, the owner will not be required to pay a fee.

Sweet reiterated that the document is a “work in progress” and because the county had never implemented anything like this before, it will take time to iron out the wrinkles. “We will continue to monitor, evaluate and make recommendations to make it better.”

Two other issues expressed Wednesday night were relief for elderly citizens and an option to raise the levy instead of charging the fee.

Sweet discussed both Thursday evening, noting that senior citizens eligible for the county's tax relief program would automatically be eligible for a reduction in their trash fee, as well. Those eligible will only be responsible for $1 per week.

Supervisors' Chairman Mike Maynard noted that in Carroll County, senior citizens receive only a couple dollars a month off their bill.

He continued to say that the 66 percent discount seniors were given in Grayson County would make sure they weren't placing a large burden on those with limited incomes.

“This isn't a requirement... to provide relief to the disabled or elderly,” Sweet told the board. “This is in fact the desire of the board.”

In regard to raising the tax levy, Supervisor Doug Carrico said it would negatively affect the farmers in the county if the board went that route.

To make up the difference in what a $3 weekly fee would bring in, the board would have to raise the tax levy 11 cents instead of the 4-cent increase it already discussed.

Checking with two different farms in the area, Carrico said one farmer would pay an additional $3,500, while the other would be charged $2,100 more.

“I don't think it's fair that the farmers would have to take such a big hit,” he said.

Carrico responded to citizens' suggestions that the county make additional cuts to the revenue side of the budget, instead of raising the expenses. He noted that it was easy to look at numbers and suggest cuts could be made, but that the board relies on its department heads to be frugal with their budgets.

Carrico added that he felt the department heads had done a tremendous job keeping their budgets at the bare minimum, and felt that additional cuts weren't possible.

With no additional comments, Supervisor Joe Vaughan motioned to adopt the ordinance. Vice Chairman Larry Bartlett seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Supervisors then turned their attention back to the fee schedule.

After a few wording changes, Supervisor Brenda Sutherland motioned to approve the fee schedule of $3 per week for all Grayson residents, $1 per week for those eligible for the tax relief program and $2 per week for property deemed to be seasonal rentals.

Carrico seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.