Lee County seeks $1 million in late fees

TUPELO – Collecting garbage is easy; collecting fees, not so much.
A state law requiring communities to pick up residential trash, regardless of customers’ ability to pay, has left Lee County more than $1 million in the hole.
Since the county began its own rubbish-collection service in 1994, nearly 8,500 customers have fallen behind in payment. Delinquent accounts now total almost half of the county’s entire annual solid waste budget, which is $2.4 million.
About 1 percent of the delinquent accounts owe more than $1,000 apiece.
“That’s too much,” said District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan, who has crusaded against unpaid trash fees since entering office a decade ago. “It’s unfair to those who do pay their bills.”
The county charges $9 monthly for the once-a-week collection.
And while state law allows communities to slap a lien on the properties of delinquent account holders, Morgan said it doesn’t always work.
“Some people just don’t pay,” he said.
The tax collector also is notified of late solid waste accounts and won’t issue or renew motor vehicle tags until the debt is paid. Again, Morgan said it’s not always successful.
“I know of people who will transfer the title of the car to their son or daughter so it doesn’t show up in the system and they don’t have to pay,” he said.
Franklin Collection Service handles the county’s overdue accounts, tracking down delinquent customers and trying to obtain payment.
County Administrator Sean Thompson said some accounts are a lost cause.
“People have died or they were bad accounts to begin with,” he said. “When we started collections, we just put every address on the account whether it was a good address or not.”
But many accounts are valid, and Morgan said he’d like to see the Legislature grant communities more powers for collections.
“There has got to be something we can do,” he said. “The situation as it stands cannot continue.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

EMILY LE COZ / NEMS Daily Journal