Time to recycle the garbage fee
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April 7, 2017
News broke this week that about 5,000 scofflaws in Summit County have not paid their new $36 annual garbage pickup fee. The bill was sent to every property with a dwelling on it. I got billed for my house, but didn't get billed for the hay fields. That seems reasonable. My neighbors all got the bill on their vacation cabins that aren't occupied very often.
The neighbors were very puzzled by the bill. Garbage day in my neighborhood is Thursday. The owners of the cabins tend to use them on the weekends, and on Thursday, there's nobody home to put the garbage out. So they do what they have done for years: haul a bag of trash home in the trunk of the car and put it in their garbage can in Salt Lake. Some sneak it into the dumpster behind the church on the premise that if they are members, they are entitled to all the benefits, including redemption and trash disposal. None of them has Summit County bins.
Well, that's not right. There is one neighbor who always puts his trash out on Sunday night, so it is on the edge of the road all week. The snowplows knocked it down all winter, and now the raccoons have found it. It's only a matter of time before we have bears getting into it. But he paid his $36 bucks, and is going to get his money's worth. About half the time, it gets emptied on Thursday, and campers coming down the canyon re-fill it by Saturday, and he hauls his own trash home anyway.
Most of the others don't want the gigantic county bins. The cabins are a long way from the highway, and the garbage trucks won't brave our narrow dirt roads to pick up a random can or two. So putting the garbage out becomes a real chore. The full can is too heavy to lift into a truck, so you either drag it half a mile to the corner on completely inadequate wheels, or you do a two-step system where you freight the bin out, then pack the trash out and fill it at the edge of the road.
Summit County is prepared to take drastic measures. They are going to quit providing the service to the people who refused to pay for it because they aren’t using the service. Some problems solve themselves.
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If 5,000 people refuse to pay $36 for a service they aren't receiving, it begins to add up. $180,000 is real money, even for Summit County. The county's contractor, Republic Services, is probably not very happy to be stuck in the middle of this one. The $36 charge goes to the county, not to them, but guess whose phone is ringing. For what it's worth, Wasatch County charges $192 a year for residential trash pickup, without recycling, and the odds of them actually picking it up are not good if it's even cloudy outside.
Summit County is a weird place. In most communities, if a lot has a house on it, it's reasonable to assume that somebody actually lives there, and would want the trash picked up. Not so around here. We have all the vacant second homes in Park City and Snyderville. There are thousands of seasonal or part-time cabins in the canyons on the east side. The one-size-fits-all approach can't possibly work here. What looks like a house might have a metal fabrication shop in the back yard, with different trash needs than a house. There's used baling twine and fencing wire scraps to get rid of with no clear instructions on recycling options.
But the day of reckoning is coming. Summit County is sending out another bill. And if the people refuse to pay that one, Summit County is prepared to take drastic measures. They are going to quit providing the service to the people who refused to pay for it because they aren't using the service. Some problems solve themselves.
Summit County will withhold the unwanted or unavailable service from the deadbeats who won't pay for it. The people who aren't getting their trash picked up still won't be getting their trash picked up, but they won't be paying $36 for the privilege of not having their trash picked up. And to make up the difference in the budget, the rest of us will probably be paying $38 next year.
Local government loves to shift costs out of the "general fund" which is the pool of property, sales and other taxes, and push them into "enterprise funds" that are paid for by fees charged in addition to taxes. Sometimes it's more equitable to put the cost of a service on the people using it, but it often is just a back door tax increase. It seems like this $36 fee should be placed in the recycling bin (not in a plastic bag, but loose so it will blow all over) and start over again.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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