Hed: Supervisors drop TV fine, aim at garbage scofflaws
By Philip Moulden
Mississippi Cable Co. was released Tuesday from a $100-a-day nonperformance penalty by Lee County supervisors after officials said complaints were down and a lingering problem had been repaired.
But on another front, supervisors ordered an attack on a growing problem. Vowing to crack down on residents who are not paying their garbage bills, supervisors agreed to seek court action if necessary.
In a letter last week to supervisors, new Mississippi Cable Co. managers said the television firm has substantially complied with demands of the board that it solve reception, billing and equipment problems that spurred scores of subscriber complaints in the past year.
The supervisors implemented a $100-a-day fine last September for failure to meet franchise requirements and cashed a company check for $6,700 when it failed to prove substantial improvements by December. Board members then reinstituted the fine with a provision that any new penalty would be forgiven if substantial improvements were made.
The cable company changed its management company in January and improvements were begun, officials said.
Reacting to two major complaints, the company opened a Tupelo office and buried a cable that had been lying across several yards in north Lee County for almost a year.
“They’ve buried the cable, but they’ve still got problems out there,” said District 2 Supervisor Everett Swann, who said the downed cable had been a major sticking point. But Swann said he believed the company will soon get the system in order.
“(Most) people I’ve talked to are happy with the situation,” he said.
Fees go unpaid
In the two years since the county began charging directly for house-to-house garbage collection, it has rung up $243,000 in unpaid bills, County Administrator Ronnie Bell told the board.
“It’s time to step it (collection) up a little bit, in my opinion,” Bell said. He suggested sending out “final notice” letters demanding payment, then turning the bills over to a collector or taking the delinquents to court.
The county implemented the $7.50 per month household charge in April 1994 and began a program to deny vehicle license tags to people who were delinquent on garbage payments in April 1995.
That has helped, but has not ended the problem, Bell said.
“You run some out of the county (to get car tags) that way. You lose about as much as you save…,” Swann noted. And though tag purchasing in a non-resident county is illegal, “they don’t catch them,” he said.
Bell noted that counties this year tried to get the state Legislature to permit liens on real property to force payment, but lawmakers refused the request.
Last month, about 3,450 residents made no garbage payment, Bell noted. The county averages collection of about 77 percent of its charges, although some of the delinquencies may be attributed to such errors as double-billings or misstated addresses, he said.
However, supervisors said the collection rate must be improved.
“There’s no way 77 percent of the people should have to pay for the other 23 percent,” noted board Vice President Thomas Kennedy.