Gwinnett increases trash fees despite credits for recent pickup delays

Residents of unincorporated Gwinnett County are seeing a solid waste fee increase in the tax bills that went out late last month — but the increase would have been greater if the county did not penalize haulers for delays and missed collections that caused an outcry around the New Year.

Trash bills include an annual fee of $239.94 for pickup of trash, recycling and other solid waste. That’s an increase of $16.38 from last year.

But the increased amount factors in a $6.06 credit to each property owner for missed pickups, including delays and suspended services in the winter as a COVID-19 surge took its toll on staffing levels. Senior citizens receive an additional 25% discount.

The fee increases are mandated by the contract between the county and five residential solid waste hauling companies, which requires annual adjustments based on fuel costs and the consumer price index. The county also approved an amendment last month that raises base fees from $16.66 per building served per month to $20.02 — a 20% increase, with an additional 82-cent flat rate per building for recycling.

“It addresses issues raised by the service providers and the county’s concerns with performance,” Maria Woods, the county’s chief financial officer, said to commissioners last month at a meeting.

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Solid waste haulers experienced increased labor costs and supply chain issues, like many other industries. But they also contended with an increased volume of trash and recycling as the coronavirus pandemic caused a mass shift to working from home. Costs to process recycling have also increased, Woods said.

The county will pay for a portion of the cost increases from its solid waste fund instead of passing it all on to property owners, she said.

The amended contract contains a long list of new rules and penalties for solid waste contractors, including a $25 fine for every missed collection per 1,000 buildings. Haulers must also implement notification systems for missed routes, with fines of $1,000 for every time they fail to notify the county and $250 every time they fail to notify residents of unfinished routes.

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The contract ends in June 2026 with a two-year renewal option.

Trash and recycling, including the remains of parties and gift-giving, piled up in pockets of metro Atlanta around the winter holidays as haulers struggled with staffing shortages. In some parts of Gwinnett, haulers who fell behind initially failed to notify residents, who left bulging containers out for days thinking trucks were coming. Instead, storms blew the trash around neighborhoods and residents called their commissioners to complain their streets looked like “war zones.”

District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden said the amended contract addresses the haulers’ struggles with the current market while acknowledging poor service within the last year.

“I think the residents of Gwinnett County get a good deal,” he said.