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Hernando commissioners address complaints about linking garbage fees to utility bills

BROOKSVILLE — Some riled-up Spring Hill residents blistered the ears of Hernando County commissioners Tuesday, questioning the wisdom, the motive and the legality of placing garbage collection fees on water and sewer bills.

The commission voted several months ago to put all of the charges on residents' monthly utility bills in order to make the process more efficient, and the first combined bills are just arriving in mailboxes. The change only affects residents in the mandatory garbage collection zone in Spring Hill.

The speakers were especially upset that seasonal residents had been told by utilities officials that, when they leave for the summer, they would have to turn off their water if they didn't want to pay for summer garbage collection.

That won't work, said Timber Pines resident Arlene Glantz. Some communities require seasonal residents to maintain their lawns, and that means sprinklers must be operational year-round, she said.

"If I don't pay my garbage bill, does my water get shut off?'' asked Spring Hill resident Steven Langone.

As they had planned, commissioners addressed the issue and fixed it later in the meeting.

Commissioners had been hearing concerns for weeks and recently asked environmental services director Susan Goebel-Canning to find a way to allow the suspension of garbage collection when seasonal residents return home.

Goebel-Canning brought the new policy to the board Tuesday. She said there will be a suspension process for garbage. The suspensions will be for a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months, no more than twice a year.

Each resident will have to provide an out-of-state forwarding address so the county can verify that they are out of town.

In response to residents' questions about having the mandatory zone, officials pointed out that the areas of Spring Hill with mandatory garbage collection voted in favor of it not once, but twice.

Another resident questioned whether it was legal to take billing away from the garbage hauler, Republic Services, after signing a multi-year contract with the company. The county's chief procurement officer, Russ Wetherington, noted that the contract with Republic specifically allowed the billing change.

The contract also was based on having a mandatory garbage zone, which Republic relied on when the company bid the job. While there are 43,000 customers in that zone, about 4,800 have not been paying for or getting garbage service.

The new billing system is designed to pick up those residents.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Did not reconsider a special exception use permit granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission for Crosspoint Church to build its sanctuary on industrial land near Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. The developer of the Holland Spring Industrial Park, who owns an adjacent parcel, asked for the reconsideration, arguing the church is incompatible and would hinder industrial development.

• Accepted an annual budget of $54,102 for the Little Rock Cannery after county recreation coordinator Harry Johnson gave an update on activities at the site. Members of the Leadership Hernando class of 2013 took the cannery on as its project and have been working with the county to develop a business plan. Membership is growing, several special events have taken place and annual revenue of $16,500 is anticipated, Johnson reported.

• Heard Chairman Wayne Dukes make new liaison appointments for commissioners. Commissioner Diane Rowden's new list removes her from the Aviation Authority and assigns her to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "Am I being punished?'' she asked. "Did I do something wrong?'' During Rowden's year sitting with the Aviation Authority, she twice publicly blasted former Chairman Gary Schraut, once for his bullying tactics and once for holding secret meetings with authority members and local banker Jim Kimbrough.

• Agreed to accept a federal hazard mitigation grant to acquire and demolish two homes flooded during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012. For property at 18420 Powell Road, the grant will pay $392,510. For property at 4132 Ramona Drive, the grant will pay $61,377. The property owners pay the remaining 25 percent of the cost. The county maintains the sites as property that is never to be developed in the future.

Hernando commissioners address complaints about linking garbage fees to utility bills 01/28/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 5:16pm]
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