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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.