Summit County overwhelmed with calls about new garbage collection fees
Notices create confusion among residents, part-time homeowners
January 6, 2017
Ever since Republic Services sent out bills for Summit County's new garbage collection fees, county officials have been swamped with complaints from property owners about the new billing system.
Tom Fisher, Summit County Manager, said the county has received "several hundred phone calls and emails," with some questioning the validity of the system and others complaining about the price tag.
But, Fisher said, most of the calls came from those who live in parts of the county where door-to-door trash service is not provided, including Tollgate and Weber canyons, or in areas comprised mostly of second homes.
"This bill probably surprised a lot of folks in that regard. Others, don't believe in the distinction between fees and taxes, they consider it all taxes, and they believe it should have gone through a Truth in Taxation hearing," Fisher said. "But that is slightly different than what we do for our budgeting process and our fees schedule."
In early December, Republic Services sent nearly 20,000 invoices for garbage collection county-wide, a service previously subsidized through the county's general fund. The fee covers services that were provided during 2016, which also led confusion. The Solid Waste Division requested the added revenue to cover the costs of closing the Three-Mile Landfill and development of a new cell in 2017.
"The bottom line is that the cost of trash collection and the overall dealing with solid waste in the county is becoming more and more expensive each year," Fisher said. "As we went through that process in 2015, the idea was to charge the fee in order to make the service of garbage collection more self-supporting."
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Ken Woolstenhulme, a former county commissioner who lives in Oakley, attended the County Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 4, to comment on the new curbside fees. Woolstenhulme questioned what the property taxes in the general fund would now support.
"With this additional fee, where did the property tax money go?" Woolstenhulme said. "If you want to charge a fee OK, but why wasn't there a Truth in Taxation hearing so the public could know what is going on? I talked to some people who said they threw the notice in the garbage."
County Council member Kim Carson encouraged staff to reexamine how properties are billed and whether those in more remote cabin areas should be charged a different rate as others.
"When we roll something out like this we need a much more explicit explanation of how we got there," Carson said.
County Council member Chris Robinson said he was unaware that the new fee would apply to every taxable parcel, adding "there is just a lot of misinformation out there."
"I've had a few calls and a few emails and we are getting a lot of pushback," Robinson said. "Maybe if we would have inserted better communication we wouldn't be running into this problem."
The county will likely send out the bill for 2017 services in June. However, county officials say a conversation needs to take place prior to that to address residents' concerns. Fisher said it is his responsibility to ensure the fees are properly explained.
"We are not going to rest on whatever we have in regard to this. We are going to look for opportunities to improve and better communicate it," Fisher said. "I think we owe that to the council and I think we also owe it to the fee payers to recommunicate as best as we can all of the stuff we have talked about, that includes any changes that might be proposed and adopted as we go along with this."
For more information about the household waste fee, contact the Summit County Public Works Department at 435-336-3970 or Republic Services at 435-615-8311.