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Crowd gathers for trash plan protest

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A few hundred people gathered around the gazebo next to the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse on Saturday to protest Gwinnett County's new trash plan, which goes into effect July 1.

The protest organizers encouraged attendees to vote for county commission candidates who will pledge to vote to remove the trash collection fee from homeowners' property tax bills, to vote to collect the trash collection fee on a monthly or quarterly basis instead of 12 to 18 months in advance, to vote to allow property owners to opt out of the trash collection plan, and to explore ways to legally repeal the trash plan and turn the decision of selecting trash providers back to the property owners.

"We're encouraging you not to vote for anyone who refuses to sign this pledge," said Debbie Dooley, the Georgia grass-roots coordinator for FreedomWorks.

The new solid waste ordinance will make trash collection mandatory for all homeowners in unincorporated Gwinnett County. City residents are not affected by the plan. As part of the plan, the county has contracted with five private haulers that will each serve a designated area of unincorporated Gwinnett.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister -- the only member of the Board of Commissioners to attend the event -- was invited to speak. Bannister said he did not come with prepared comments, but he made a few remarks and attempted to address some of the major concerns with the plan.

Boos and interjections from the crowd made it difficult to hear Bannister. When he left the stage, seemingly exasperated, he put up his hands and said, "I quit."

"I came out here to address the issue as best I could and listen," Bannister said after he left the stage.

He acknowledged that there are people who oppose the trash plan, but he said he doesn't think the majority of Gwinnettians oppose the plan.

"We can't go without a program, and we can't have the old program, because it doesn't work," he said. "It's probably the best program that could be put together with the help of the judge and others."

The new trash program was developed as a settlement to a lawsuit trash haulers filed against the county after a failed 2008 solid waste plan.

Bannister said it's not an uncommon practice to bill for trash service on property taxes. He said many area cities have similar trash programs.

"It's a change, but I think a change for the better," he said.

Emory Morsberger is a developer who lives in unincorporated Gwinnett but owns property in downtown Lawrenceville. He said people frequently dump trash overnight in large trash bins he pays for in the city -- which costs him more money.

He said he thinks the plan is needed for three reasons. One, he said, it will prevent people from dumping their garbage in business owners' trash bins or in wooded areas. Two, it will reduce the number of garbage trucks going through neighborhoods, which will lessen the wear and tear on the roads. Three, it's a health issue.

Gwinnett resident Paul Allen said he thinks the idea that the plan will help make the county cleaner is a good one, but he doubts it will work.

Currently, Allen drives through the county, picking up signs and other trash along the roads. The amount of garbage he collects won't fit in his new trash bin, and the hauler won't collect the refuse unless he pays for additional bins. So Allen said he's going to stop picking up trash outside of his neighborhood.

He said he also questions where exactly the money will go once the county collects the trash fees through property taxes.

Bill Smith, who lives outside of the city of Lawrenceville, said he's done business with the same trash hauler for 11 years and never had a problem.

"My concern with this trash plan is the freedom of choice completely disappears," he said. "I do not appreciate that the county government will dictate to me who I have to have service with, how much I will pay and how I have to pay."

He said he's also upset because adding the trash fee to his tax bill will bankrupt his escrow account, which will result in a higher mortgage payment.

"It will cost me even more money than the trash service itself," he said.