COFFEEVILLE – While most people are diligent to notify utility companies to turn off their electricity or water when they move from a house, many times garbage service is overlooked. It’s a mistake that can cost hundreds of dollars as a Grenada lady learned during Monday’s Board of Supervisor meeting after a hearing on a delinquent county garbage bill.
The issue surfaces periodically in supervisor meetings and frequently involves a renter who vacates a rental house and fails to notify the county’s garbage clerk in order for the service to be stopped. The monthly charge continues to add up until it becomes a significant amount and is targeted for collection efforts by the county. At this point, the property owner also receives notification of their responsibility for the bill, which often comes as a surprise. The problem is compounded because unlike other utilities, state law prohibits counties from terminating garbage service if the bill is not paid.
During Monday’s recessed meeting in Coffeeville Sarah Hendrix questioned the $340.55 bill that had accumulated at a house she owns on Hwy. 330, outside of Coffeeville. A small portion of the bill stems from when the renter, Chelsie Bennett, lived at the house. But the majority of the bill accumulated in the two-plus years after Bennett moved out of the house and Hendrix, like others in the past, expressed concern that she had not been notified earlier about the growing bill.
The problem is two-fold, state law requires the county to hold the property owner responsible for the garbage bill. And the county continues to pay the monthly charge from Waste Management, the company that picks up garbage in the county, until notice is received to discontinue the service. The monthly charge from Waste Management continues even if the company is not picking up trash at a residence because the can count used for billing is based on account records at the garbage clerk’s office.
In Hendrix’s case, the account was still active because the garbage clerk was not notified to stop the service.
“If somebody had notified me shortly after she moved out that she wasn’t paying, I could have paid it,” Hendrix explained.
“The law puts that duty on yourself to find out who is paying the garbage bill. Unfortunately you have to pay it,” Board Attorney John Crow explained.
Crow also explained that all counties in the state are required by law to provide garbage service in unincorporated areas.
“We don’t have a choice,” Crow added, explaining that the county is also prohibited from charging more than what the service costs.
Supervisors also explained the difficulty of tracking down every landowner who has a renter with a delinquent garbage bill.
“Unfortunately a lot of people pay in arrears and we don’t get excited until it gets up to a certain amount and then we start trying to dun them,” District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn explained.
“This is a problem we have all over the county. These renters run out on their landlords and leave them holding the bag. By law we don’t have any choice but to collect. And that $340.55, the county has been paying that all along,” District 5 Supervisor Gaylon Gray explained.
“My question is, they (renters) were only there three or four months, somebody should have notified me way back then, it’s been two years,” Hendrix countered.
“Our (garbage) records don’t reflect who the owner is,” Crow said, explaining that it would be a time consuming process to track down every property owner who has a renter with a delinquent property bill.
“A lot of them (landowners) are putting it (garbage bill) in the rent and the landowner is paying the garbage bill. Because if nobody calls, it just keeps adding on,” Gray explained about similar scenarios that have cost other rental property owners.
“We have paid this bill for two years,” Crow reiterated about the fee charged to the county by Waste Management.
“Why did you pay it for two years?” Hendrix asked.
“We didn’t know there was nobody there,” Crow answered.
“Somebody knows the bill was not being paid, though,” Hendrix countered.
“We got a bunch of people not paying their bills,” Crow answered.
“Hundreds and hundreds,” Gray agreed.
“It is not our responsibility to do something the landowner is supposed to be doing themselves,” Crow continued.
“You are going to be responsible for the $340.55 based on the facts that have been presented today,” Board President Cayce Washington said as the hearing came to a close.
“I don’t know how I will be able to pay it,” Hendrix said.
“If you want to pay it out in payments, we will accept that,” Washington said.
“I will have to because I have had cancer twice,” Hendrix said. “Nobody has been living out there, there is not a (garbage) can out there, half the floor is torn out of the house. It is just ridiculous that I am charged with this when I didn’t know the law,” Hendrix said. “I have never heard of this law in Grenada.”
“Everybody says they have not heard of it, but we put it in the paper here,” Crow explained.
“I don’t get the Coffeeville paper,” Hendrix countered.
“This is a statewide thing, everybody in the state wrestles with garbage,” Gray noted.