Considering the Grand Jury investigation and indictments, the resignation of the commission chairman and the arrest of a former planning commissioner, you’d think that the subject of trash collection would be the least controversial matter facing the Board of Commissioners (BOC). Instead, it appears that hell hath no fury like a trash collection customer scorned. Some Gwinnett County residents find the new “solid waste management” (government-speak for trash collection) too expensive and too inconvenient for their liking. Others object to the plan as “socialized garbage”—“Obamacare” applied to trash collection. (Residential property owners in unincorporated Gwinnett are required to accept and pay for county-authorized trash collection.)
A Little Background
By state law, the county must update its solid waste management program every 10 years. The current plan was developed to meet this requirement and according to the Gwinnett County web site, “This new plan provides comprehensive and consistent solid waste, expands recycling service countywide, and responds to homeowner feedback on the desire for less illegal dumping, same-day neighborhood pickup, and less neighborhood truck traffic.” It’s hard to argue with those goals, but questionable research, poor planning and less than meaningful communication with county residents has given the plan, and the people responsible for it, black eyes. Ironically, support of the trash plan may have landed the political careers of some county commissioners in the garbage.
To make matters worse, the BOC’s plan had barely seen daylight before several lawsuits were filed. The initial plan called for the county to be divided into two zones, and contracts awarded to one company to handle each zone. The scope of the contracts and their insurance and bond requirements made it economically impossible for smaller trash hauling companies to compete. So they did what seems to be the most popular way of showing dissatisfaction in such maters—they filed lawsuits. This prompted additional lawsuits filed by other companies.
Ultimately, the BOC divided the county into five zones and, as noted on the county’s web site, “Five private companies collect in assigned territories”. That arrangement eliminated the legal wrangling, but it didn’t sooth the ruffled feathers of county residents who disliked the plan or resented being forced to accept it. For many residents, the BOC’s grand plan added insult to injury by requiring payment for trash service 18 months in advance, rather than one month in arrears as is customary. (A total of $321.48 is added to each property owner’s tax bill.) However, according to (District 106) State House representative-elect Brett Harrell, a more serious problem is that the fee for trash collection appears on property owners’ tax bills. Harrell states, “Putting fees on property tax bills certainly cuts down delinquent payments to the government through the heavy-handed threat of losing your home. But it is the wrong thing to do because it also denies you recourse for poor service, may increase your mortgage escrow payments, and facilitates the filing of erroneous income tax returns as many will include the trash and other non-deductible fees appearing on our property tax bills as deductible taxes – which they are not.”
For more trash talk, click the link for Part 2