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1st fees for trash plan draw fire

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When Bob McGaha received a letter Thursday from Gwinnett County about the new garbage and recycling program, he said he was "blind sided."

"I'm upset," said McGaha, who owns a home in unincorporated Norcross.

Gwinnett County mailed letters to all residential property owners in unincorporated areas on May 28 with details about its new trash plan. The letters, which homeowners should receive this week, included assigned haulers and new garbage and recycling pickup days.

He's not upset with the trash plan, which county officials say will be a more efficient and cost-effective solid waste service that will result in cleaner neighborhoods. He said he's OK with the $17.86 monthly basic service fee and even that the charge will be added to his property tax bill.

What he said he's not OK with is that the county is billing for the first 18 months of service up front -- for a total of $321.48. The fee will cover service for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011.

"To prebill for 18 months (is) ridiculous," McGaha said, noting that the fee will put his escrow account in deficit and cause his mortgage payments to increase.

Billing for the first 18 months of service is the most cost-effective method, said Heather Sawyer, a spokeswoman for Gwinnett County. Ultimately, she said, it will reduce the overall cost to customers.

"Billing annually for garbage significantly reduces administrative costs that would otherwise be passed on to the citizens (postage, printing, etc.), and billing for the first 18 months in 2010 keeps the county from borrowing money for the program start-up costs, a huge expense that would also have been passed on to unincorporated citizens," a statement from Sawyer reads.

Garbage service fees for years 2012 and beyond will be billed on an annual basis, according to the statement.

The Tax Commissioner's Office traditionally mails property tax bills in July, and this year's bill will include charges for 2010 property taxes for public school operations and county government operations, 2010 stormwater utility fees, and garbage service fees for July to December and 2011. The first half of the entire bill is due on Sept. 15 and the rest is due on Nov. 15.

After exploring other options, the county decided to use the existing property tax billing system for billing the solid waste service fee to minimize administrative costs, Sawyer said.

"This is an important initiative for Gwinnett County in that it not only provides a cost effective garbage collection system for all unincorporated households, but it expands recycling opportunities to 35 nonsorted items and it provides for the pickup of bulky items and white goods (large appliances)," the statement reads.

"Approximately 40,000 unincorporated Gwinnett households that currently have no residential garbage service will gain access to service under this plan. The provision of access to these households should greatly reduce the illegal dumping on our roadsides, undeveloped property, and commercial property -- including illegal dumping in commercial Dumpsters."

The county has entered into contract with five haulers to provide residential garbage and recycling collection and disposal services in unincorporated Gwinnett County beginning in July. City residents are not affected by the new plan.

For more information about the plan, visit www.sustainablegwinnett.com or call the Gwinnett County Solid Waste and Recycling Division Call Center at 770-822-7141 on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.