Gwinnett locks down new solid waste program

Gwinnett County formalized its decision to charge homeowners for garbage service by adding the bill to property tax notices.

On Tuesday, the commission amended the solid waste ordinance to establish a division to manage the program and take steps to insure it was funded. The revised ordinance provides the county with power to place a lien on property in case of non-payment and charge interest on late payments.

Under the new program, which begins July 1, the county will be divided into five collection zones, each serviced by a single hauling company.

Homeowners in unincorporated areas will be billed $17.86 per month for garbage collection, recycling and removal of large household items. The county will receive $1.25 of that fee for administrative costs.

The ordinance allows the county to charge a five-percent penalty on any unpaid amount. After the final tax installment due date, usually in mid November, interest will accrue on unpaid amounts at one percent per month.

Tuesday's action also provided for up-front billing, meaning homeowners will pay in advance for the service. Tax bills this year will include a $321 charge for 18 months of garbage service covering July 1 this year through December 2011.

The county expects to collect between $48 million and $57 million from residential customers this year. About $415,000 of that will pay annual salaries and benefits for six new employees who will supervise and administer the enterprise. The five haulers will receive $18 million every six months.

The new solid waste program was introduced in March, nearly a year and a half after a superior court judge halted a 2008 plan that divided the county into six collection zones and awarded two haulers exclusive franchises to service unincorporated residential customers. County officials estimate the number of unincorporated households at between 150,000 and 180,000.

Also last month, the county settled three lawsuits filed in district court by five garbage haulers over the 2008 plan. Those same five haulers have been awarded exclusive franchises under the current plan.

Another suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, is still pending. Waste Industries filed suit in December claiming county officials were on the verge of creating an "illegal and unconstitutional solid waste hauling program" as a way of settling pending litigation with the five haulers.