The Leflore County Board of Supervisors has been spending a lot of time talking about garbage over the past year.

It has made some progress in reducing the pile of problems, but new ones keep cropping up.

The supervisors should consider a simpler, less painful and probably less expensive way to cover the cost of house-to-house pickup than the one they’re using.

The latest surprise came with the revelation that the Leflore County Tax Collector’s Office apparently has not been faithfully withholding the car tags of residents in arrears on their garbage bills.

It’s a little unclear, though, what Tax Collector Annie Conley has been doing in this matter, as she has given conflicting answers at the last two meetings of the supervisors, where she has been summoned to explain.

At one meeting, she said her office has not been holding up car tags — one of the few legal leverages the county has to make people in arrears pay up. Then this past week, she backed up from that, saying that when people show up to buy or renew a tag, if they are behind on their garbage bill, she sends them down the hall to see the clerk in the Solid Waste Department to take care of the matter. She said she believes most do before they return to get their tag.

Conley is a little hard to decipher, but the impression she gives is that collecting past-due garbage bills is really not her problem. Technically, though, it is. A state law bars tax collectors from issuing or renewing car tags of people who are behind on their garbage bills. “Payment of all delinquent garbage fees shall be deemed a condition of receiving a motor vehicle road and privilege license tag,” the law states.

One hang-up, though, in holding back car tags in Leflore County is the same law specifies that before the tax collector’s hammer comes down, the person behind on the garbage bill has to be notified by the county and given an opportunity to dispute the amount or the delinquency.

That prerequisite has fallen into disuse in recent years, and the county is in the process of trying to get the process restarted. It has hired a hearing officer to listen to any appeals, but it’s yet to work out how the legally required notice is going to be provided.

At the same time, the county has signaled its intention to participate in another avenue to collect these past-due bills: getting a cut of a person’s state income tax refund.

All of this is designed to recoup at least some of the $1.3 million or so that’s on the books, some of the debt going back to when the country first started house-to-house garbage collection in 1995.

To keep the past-due balance from getting much worse, the county struck a deal late last year with East Leflore Water and Sewer District to add the cost of garbage collection to its water bills. The understanding is that if the entire bill is not paid, including the garbage fee, the water gets cut off. That’s similar to the leverage used by the city of Greenwood, which adds garbage collection fees to the bills for electricity and water sent out by Greenwood Utilities.

Whether East Leflore will be any tougher than the Tax Collector’s Office on garbage deadbeats remains to be seen. Even if it is, there is still 20 percent of the county that is not served by East Leflore, and the county will have to try to forge collection agreements with a handful of other water districts to cover everyone.

All of this overcomplicates matters.

As I have argued before, it would be simpler and more efficient to just tack the cost of garbage collection onto property taxes, the way that other county services, such as police and fire protection, are handled.

The county’s budget for this year estimates spending just under $740,000 for garbage collection. It would take about an 8% increase in non-school taxes on residents who live outside of Greenwood to cover that cost. It could be less since the expense of collecting the monthly garbage bills would be eliminated.

For a typical property owner — someone living in a $100,000 home and driving a $30,000 automobile — the additional taxes would come to about $101 a year, which is actually about 10 percent cheaper than the garbage fees currently run.

The only argument against this simpler, cheaper solution has been that it’s not fair, since people with more property would pay more for the same service than people with less property.

So? That’s the way it is with financing most all the other services the county provides.

Besides, those who don’t own their home or a car probably are not paying the garbage bills they’re getting now anyway. They’re already being subsidized by those who do.

Using annual taxes rather than monthly fees is just a simpler way to shift the cost.

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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