Trash fees to appear on tax bills in the Spring Hill mandatory zone

Article Courtesy of  The Tampa Bay Times

By Barbara Behrendt

Published May 25, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners knew what they were in for.

Inundated with emails and phone calls before Tuesday’s meeting, and facing an unhappy crowd of customers from the county’s garbage hauler Republic Services, county officials tried to get ahead of some of the most important issues.

Yes, they told customers, they had already raised garbage rates beginning Jan. 1, 2019, but they had not explained it well in a letter sent out several weeks ago.

Yes, the people of Spring Hill voted in 1992 to have mandatory garbage service, and it is still in place.

And yes, Republic Services has had performance problems lately, but they paid a fine and have been working toward more reliable service.

Scott Harper, who manages the county’s solid waste program, explained that Tuesday’s meeting was merely to formalize one aspect of what commissioners approved last year. Instead of billing Spring Hill customers in the mandatory zone on their monthly utility bills, the annual cost will appear on their property tax bills.

Residents in the mandatory zone will see costs go from $8.18 per month to $13.27. After an additional fee for tacking the cost to their property tax bills, those residents will pay $172.80 a year.

In other parts of the county, fees run $9.21 to $10.47 per month. They will increase to $13.49.

Hernando County recycle bins await the arrival of the Republic Services recycle truck in Spring Hill.

Commissioners voted unanimously to make the billing changes because they accepted the new contract last year based on that premise. They said that if residents in the mandatory zone don’t want that anymore, they could seek a new community vote.

And a new vote could bring new negotiations with Republic Services, officials said, and could prompt commissioners to change the contract.

One by one, customers filed up to the microphone to say they were unhappy. They disliked the county’s decision to extend Republic’s service for seven years. Some also worried about the automated garbage pickup system which starts in January. Trucks will lift up standardized trash cans and mechanically dump them into the truck before setting them back down again.

Commissioner John Allocco said he heard concerns from Timber Pines residents about the size of the trash cans Republic will supply for automated service. The 96-gallon bins were too big, some complained. Individual communities can work that out on their own, he said.

Commission Chairman Steve Champion discounted those concerns, saying his 6-year-old maneuvered them without any problem.

Seth Weightman, municipal services manager for Republic’s Tampa/Sarasota business unit, said the company is ordering cans and wants to work with community groups if they have a size preference. He is contacting homeowner associations.

Weightman assured customers the company is trying to resolve service problems, many related to its inability to find enough quality workers to staff the trucks. Champion and citizens argued that, as a private business, that’s Republic’s problem, not the county’s or the community’s.

Owners of multiple homes complained that they will have to pay the bills of tenants who generate garbage. Others questioned the fairness of an annual fee on homeowners who are here part-time. Several questioned why residents weren’t receiving refunds from the fines levied against the company or the savings it would realize by having the county handle its billing.

Another question was why the county chose last year to not seek competitive bids for the service.

Jim Wunderle, the county’s purchasing and contracts manager, said the county had looked at fees in other places and explored the options.

At one point in Tuesday’s meeting, audience members were shouting out comments, and Champion called in deputies to keep the meeting orderly. Champion said he welcomed seeing citizens come forward to overturn the previous vote.

Spring Hill residents voted for the mandatory zone because the cost was cheaper, said Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

The high-density, guaranteed customer base in that zone allows Republic to offer lower rates, Weightman said. Republic has 43,000 customers in the zone, he said, and approximately 19,000 customers in other parts of the county who choose to use Republic Services.