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Waste company's letter angers residents

Some residents here are ready to toss Waste Management Inc. to the curb.

On Oct. 16, the Pasco-based waste hauler sent a letter to residents of Spring Hill's mandatory garbage collection area _ residents the company previously had never billed. The letter, addressed to "Dear Valued Hernando County Customer," included an invoice for services back-dated to July 1.

Some in the area were taken completely by surprise, having never used the company's services or been aware they lived in a mandatory garbage pick-up zone. Although residents voted to institute mandatory collection in 1986, it seems some homes, perhaps those of newcomers, have not been participating.

Waste Management officials did not respond to several calls for comment, but angry residents have swamped county commissioners with phone calls and e-mails demanding answers.

One woman wrote saying she would be shot rather than pay any money to the company; a couple complained that the imposition of fees amounted to an infringement of their constitutional rights.

"They are very upset," County Commissioner Diane Rowden said. "And I can't blame them."

Rowden said she was unsure of all the details, but believes Waste Management went through county tax rolls and identified 6,200 homes in the mandatory collection area they had failed to bill for services. The collection area contains 32,000 homes, she said.

Some homes were having their trash picked up by Waste Management and not getting billed, Rowden said, and others were not getting served or billed.

Waste Management's letter indicates the company compared its records against those of the county property appraiser and found that while all residents were paying the annual waste disposal fee of $62.50, which appears on tax bills, many were not being charged for garbage collection and curbside recycling.

Bills for those services are paid quartely in advance, the letter states, and are $26.32 and $6.40 respectively.

Rowden said she found the company's letter outrageous, but even more disturbing is what she was told when she called Waste Management's customer service line.

When Rowden inquired about the bills, she said, a company representative told her Hernando County commissioners had directed Waste Management to mail them out.

Hogwash, said Rowden.

Rowden said Waste Management officials met individually with all five board members and told them they had a problem with their billing. According to Rowden, Waste Management officials said not everybody in the collection area was being charged and they intended to notify residents and collect their money.

Rowden said she told the company that seemed reasonable. But the commissioner said she thought there would be some sort of notification or outreach by either the county or Waste Management before bills were mailed out.

"I am really upset with the way they have gone about doing this," Rowden said.

The board will discuss how they will handle Waste Management's action at its Tuesday meeting, which is open to the public.

_ Will Van Sant can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.

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