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Hernando commissioners approve placing garbage collection fee on utility bills

BROOKSVILLE — Starting in January, the more than 43,000 homes in the mandatory garbage collection zone in Spring Hill will start paying an extra $7 a month on their utility bills.

The charge will replace the quarterly bills they currently receive for garbage service.

The Hernando County Commission voted Tuesday to add the garbage fee to water and sewer bills in that area to make the billing process more efficient. While the transition and accounting might cost the county $70,000 or more, commissioners made it clear their support was based on the county's waste hauler covering the extra cost.

The move means that about 4,800 addresses in the mandatory zone that are not paying their garbage bills will have to start doing so, lest they lose water and sewer service. Also, because the garbage bill will be connected to the water/sewer bill, when part-time residents turn off their water, the garbage bill also will be stopped.

When Republic Services became the countywide garbage hauler at the beginning of 2012, the company had a rough start. It had no list of customers and ended up billing everyone and picking up everywhere. Billing issues have continued to be a problem in isolated instances.

For a while, commissioners talked about adding the garbage bill to the property tax bill, but that discussion didn't get far when it looked as if that method would cost the county money.

Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's environmental services director, said the county had been looking at consolidating the billing process for some time as a way to encourage full participation in the mandatory zone and create a more efficient system.

She said officials worked to reach an agreement with Republic that made the arrangement cost neutral for the county.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he was leery about the idea, but when he found out that Republic will reimburse the county for any costs, he was willing to support it.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he heard from residents who did not believe the county was going to be reimbursed and that instead the county was trying to help the garbage hauler. Nicholson said the change will help Republic, but also will help residents because it will keep the cost of any future rate increases lower.

He also liked the fact that everyone in the zone would now have to pay for the service.

Goebel-Canning said that, after 90 days, the county would calculate the extra costs it incurs for reimbursement. At the request of commission Chairman Dave Russell, she agreed to bring a report on how things are going back to commissioners at that time.

Russell also voiced concern that, with the garbage fee on county utility bills, the county would be slammed with complaints about missed garbage collections. Goebel-Canning said calls about garbage service will go to Republic through an option on the Utilities Department's call answering system.

The commission vote for the change was 3-2, with Russell and Commissioner Jim Adkins voting no.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Agreed to join with Citrus County to seek proposals for alternative methods to dispose of county waste. County Administrator Len Sossamon said there are multiple technologies available and that there is some hope that the county can use waste to generate energy and perhaps provide a new revenue source to the county. The goal would be to reduce the amount of waste going into the county landfill and to increase recycling.

• Heard Sossamon's staff reorganization plan. The changes include having human resources, risk management and workers' compensation report to George Zoettlein, assistant administrator of budget and community services. The airport will now fall under Russ Wetherington, assistant administrator of general services, rather than Zoettlein. The Tourism Development and Business Development operations will now report directly to Sossamon.

Hernando commissioners approve placing garbage collection fee on utility bills 10/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 7:12pm]
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