The Leflore County Board of Supervisors is wasting Joyce Chiles’ time, asking the board’s attorney to look into why the county’s system for collecting garbage fees isn’t working.
The reasons are obvious: The system has underlying misconceptions about human behavior. It assumes that most people will pay their bills without coercion and that they’ll voluntarily report when they move into or out of a house or apartment.
With a collection rate of less than 40 percent, with about $1.3 million in unpaid garbage fees and with a number of bills steadily accumulating for 20 years or more, that should be abundant evidence that the current system is unworkable — unless, of course, the county is prepared to spend a ton of money collecting bills and keeping constant track of changes of residence.
One of the major problems Leflore County has is that it doesn’t really have an effective leverage to collect these user fees on garbage. It has to pick up the garbage whether a household pays or not for the service because it would otherwise create a health hazard. Plus, unlike the city of Greenwood, which uses Greenwood Utilities’ billing system and the threat of cutting off your electricity if you don’t pay for garbage collection, the county only has the threat of holding up your car tag renewal. That apparently isn’t much of a stick, however, as it has been supposedly enforcing that penalty for years and the delinquency continues to grow.
Then there’s the matter of how much of that $1.3 million is uncollectable because people have died or moved, and the county record keepers don’t know it. So they keep sending out bills each month in the wrong person’s name (and reportedly sometimes duplicate bills to the same address), which get thrown away by the residents who now live there.
One suggestion for updating the records is to do a door-to-door canvassing of every household. Good luck with that. Not only would that take an army of data gatherers, but they’d have to keep going back over and over to keep the records updated.
There is a much easier way to collect for garbage than user fees. It’s what several other counties already do, and it’s what this county already does with other essential services, such as police protection. Tack the cost onto property taxes.
Landlords could pass the cost of the tax increase on to their renters. If the tax bill goes unpaid, the county could slap a lien on the property. It would be a simpler, more effective collection system.
The objection to a switch from user fees to a property tax increase is that it would force those with more taxable property — businesses, farmers and wealthy homeowners — to subsidize those with less or none. But there is already a subsidy going on. The one-third of people paying their garbage bills are subsidizing the two-thirds who are not.
Where’s the fairness in that?