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Cedar Key Commissioners made progress on the city’s ongoing overdue garbage bills Tuesday night, passing three separate motions in an effort to get a handle an the approximately $16,000 residential and business debt that has accumulated.
“We need to get on this,” Mayor Sue Colson told commissioners. “And if we don’t solve this soon, it will be on the agenda every week until we do.”
The city of Cedar Key pays Waste Pro to collect garbage within the city limits, and in turn bills the residents and business operators for the service. Over the years, past due amounts have built up, resulting in some single-business debt amounts in the thousands and single-home debt in the hundreds, according to public records documents.
Commissioners followed the recommendation of a recent audit, writing off approximately half of the debt – $8,000 – because the city would be unlikely to recoup it. Much of the released debt spanning past years belongs to long-ago renters or deceased persons.
“Currently we have another $8,000 and climbing again,” Mayor Colson said. “And we’re paying for it – everyone in this room is paying for it. We need to stop giving away the garbage money – and since this is a tight year and we are concerned about money, this is one thing we can do.”
For the remaining debt, commissioners moved to flag each account that was more than sixty days past due and over $50 to start the process of collection and possibly halt garbage pick-up if necessary.
“The city has done a remarkable job recently – we have eliminated utility tax, we have funded radio advertising… no one can say we are anti-business here, but we need to do something,” said Commissioner Scott Dennison.
Monthly garbage service for residents is $18.50 and commercial rates start at $25 for a small business. The late fee is $2 for homes and $5 for businesses. Commissioners discussed raising the late fee, but made no final decision. Waste Pro garbage pick-up in unincorporated areas of Levy County is $25 per month for residential service.
The Commission also instructed City Attorney David Coffey to draft a resolution designating the property owner as the responsible party for garbage services instead of the renter. Landlords would then be able to build the cost of garbage collection into the monthly rent.
Prior to the motion, Commissioner Gene Hodges voiced strong opposition to turning over responsibility to rental property owners. “That’s just another imposition on someone renting out a house,” he said.
Commissioner Pat O’Neal disagreed with Hodges.
“We can’t ask the residents to fund the tenants anymore,” O’Neal said. “That $8,000 was enough.”
Commissioner Hodges owns two cottages in Cedar Key that he rents out. “I will abstain from voting on this issue so there’s no conflict,” he said.
No other commissioners own rental properties in the city.
Commissioner Heath Davis, who was on vacation and not at Tuesday’s meeting, owns a motel. Like other lodging owners, he pays for business garbage service for the property.
“I think they made great progress tonight,” Davis said by phone after the meeting. “This is something that has needed to be done for a long time.”
The Cedar Key Water and Sewer District is set to take over garbage billing in October for the city. It is unclear how making the owner responsible for the garbage bill would effect the water/garbage billing combination.