By Sharon Swanepoel
The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments by attorneys for who is taking on Gwinnett County about its way of collecting payment on sanitation services. At issue is the fact sanitation fees are collected on tax bills, something Mesteller claims is illegal and unconstitutional.
Should the county bill sanitation fees on property tax bills? Are you glad the county now provides trash service or did you prefer being able to choose your own provider? Let us know in the comments.
The outcome of Mesteller’s appeal won’t be known for several weeks. However, even if it fails, state Rep. Brett Harrell, whose district includes Snellville and parts of Loganville and Grayson, is also taking on the issue. He is re-introducing legislation in January to prevent municipalities using tax bills to collect anything other than taxes. Harrell said his reason for re-introducing House Bill 291 is not opposition to any particular program, just with the billing mechanism.
“In Georgia, we have non-judicial foreclosure; so, the lien is placed on your home and you are not even afforded an opportunity to stand before a judge and plead your case - again for non-taxes,” Harrell said, adding he had 60 co-signers to the bill when originally introduced. He acknowledges that he does face opposition. “The associations of counties and cities representing corporate government rather than the citizens of those counties and cities are the primary opponents at the capitol. Around the state, the opponents are those elected and staff members that are more concerned with revenue to the corporate government rather than protecting those they serve.”
Gwinnett County officials, however, say that if either Mesteller’s lawsuit or Harrell’s legislation is successful, the outcome might not be favorable for county taxpayers. Joe Sorenson, communications director for Gwinnett County, warns that if the county were unable to bill for solid waste and recovery services via the property tax billing system, it would have to create a new billing system or significantly modify an existing one.
“Either option would increase costs,” Sorenson said. “Additionally, the payment rate for property taxes is about 99 percent. Other billing payment rates are significantly lower and the costs associated with non-payment would become a liability for the remainder of the customers. Just as the case with any business, the cost of uncollectible bills has to be included in the cost of operation and the rate structure."
Sorenson said it was unfortunate, but those who plan their bills faithfully wind up paying for those who do not.
"The higher the rate of non-payment, the greater the burden on those who pay,” Sorenson said.