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County: Trash bills haven't dipped enough

When Citrus County commissioners lowered the county landfill's dumping fee from $60 a ton to $30 a ton this year, they told residents to expect smaller bills from their trash hauling companies.

If some customers didn't see decreases, the commissioners said, those people should shop around for better deals with other companies.

After all, commissioners said, residents were to start paying a new $27 per-dwelling annual fee to help support the landfill, so they shouldn't have to foot the bill for windfalls payable to the hauling companies.

If this hopeful idea seemed plausible at first, commissioners have since learned to rein in their hopes.

On Tuesday, commissioners said the hauling companies seem to be reaping considerable windfalls from the county's new fee system.

Commissioner Brad Thorpe said he had received a number of calls from residents _ many of whom likely had received recently mailed tax bills _ complaining that their trash pickup bills have not decreased. In fact, Commission Chairman Jim Fowler said he had heard that the rates of one company, GeoWaste Inc., had increased since the county lowered the landfill's dumping fee last month.

The lower dumping fee, known as a "tipping fee," was one part of a strategy devised by the county to guarantee a larger amount of revenue for the Lecanto landfill, which faces a debt of roughly $4-million.

Officials had discovered that a portion of the county's garbage was finding its way to dumping facilities outside Citrus County, so they were looking for ways to win back haulers. In the end, all but one of the half-dozen or so hauling companies doing business in the county agreed to sign a contract to use the landfill at the lower, $30-a-ton fee. The company that didn't sign was GeoWaste Inc., known locally as United Sanitation.

Precise figures of hauling companies' rates now versus prior to the tipping fee reduction were not available Tuesday, but commission members said calls from the public indicated that rates have not decreased nearly enough.

One problem, Thorpe said, is that some areas are served by only one company.

Commissioner Vicki Phillips agreed. "There are people out there who are left with no competitiveness to be able to shop around," she said.

Phillips suggested that the county consider moving toward a franchise system that would award geographical areas to companies based on the competitiveness of their rates. Other commissioners agreed but said that a more pressing need is to let the public know that their garbage collection rates should be dropping _ and if they aren't, to look to other companies.

"The longer the situation goes on, the more the windfall increases for the haulers," Thorpe said.

To raise public awareness, Thorpe and other commission members directed County Administrator Gary Kuhl to get the word out. He agreed to put together a newspaper advertisement and a television public service announcement and to arrange meetings with the editorial boards of local newspapers.

The commission also set a public hearing for Dec. 9 to take comment on a plan to charge businesses for trash disposal based on trash container size and frequency of pickup.

In the coming month, county officials plan to conduct surveys to come up with an accurate list of businesses in unincorporated areas that would face the new fees.