The committee looking into Leflore County’s long-standing problem of forcing people to pay for garbage collection may have come up with a solution for the vast majority of the scofflaws.

The problem is a big one. In March, the county was owed $1.3 million in unpaid fees with nearly 2,500 residents owing at least $200 in back fees and some owing more than $2,000. With a little more than 3,800 total accounts billed at $8.50 per month, that means about two-thirds of the county’s garbage collection customers are at least two years behind, with some more than 20 years behind.

And because the county continues to collect the garbage without collecting the garbage fees, the problem grows monthly by $24,660. Since March, when the Board of Supervisors started discussing the problem, the amount owed to the county has increased by nearly $100,000.

The county currently withholds auto tag renewals until garbage bills are paid, but the high percentage of people in arrears for garbage collection fees indicates county residents have figured out a way to get their tags without paying their bills.

Supervisors have discussed Greenwood Utilities’ policy of cutting off, except in emergency weather situations, electrical power to customers when the bill, which includes the monthly fee for the city’s garbage collection, goes unpaid. That sent the county looking for ways to leverage people into paying their  bills.

They may have found that lever in the East Leflore Water and Sewer District.

The district provides water and sewer service to about 80 percent of the county outside of Greenwood. The rest is covered by the city of Itta Bena, Sidon and Morgan City. The district’s board members are appointed by the county supervisors, and the district manager of the utility, Shane Correro, is also the county engineer.

With supervisors appointing the board, a deal would appear to be a fait accompli, but Board Attorney Joyce Chiles and District 5 Supervisor Robert Collins both said the board had to approach the utility board with a plan to bundle garbage collection fees in with the monthly bills for water and sewer service.

That would allow for water to be cut off for anyone not paying their bills.

“We have to work a deal out before we can figure out how much they’re going to charge us to collect the bills,” Collins said.

Having a procedure in place for future payments could keep the matter from getting worse, Chiles said.

“The way the committee is working on this is to move forward,” she said.

That still leaves the

$1.3 million to $1.4 million in uncollectable bills. Chiles said many of the people on the list of those owing for many years actually died or moved away years ago, and their survivors or new occupants never informed the county of the change in ownership of the garbage account.

But with the system set up to bill individuals at specific addresses, untangling years of changes in occupancy could present a challenge.

Chiles said the county may have to resort to having employees go door to door to determine who lives at a specific address and who should receive the garbage bill. She also said supervisors will name a hearing officer in the near future who will listen to people explaining why they shouldn’t pay their back bills and decide who is responsible and for how much.

Details of the position and how it will be paid are still to be determined.

Collins said he thinks the committee is making progress.

“The thing got out of hand years ago,” he said. “...I think we’ve got a good effort going now. Everybody’s trying to get it resolved.”

The discussion of the matter will continue Friday at 10 a.m. in the Leflore County Courthouse.

Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or gmaliska@gwcommonwealth.com.

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