Ga. Supreme Court to Take A Look At Gwinnett Trash Plan

Gwinnett’s trash plan will be argued in front of the Georgia Supreme Court Monday. A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the county in September.

Loganville resident Verlin Gilliam was not successful in his attempt to challenge the law and nor was Snellville resident Robert Mesteller.

But Mesteller is not giving up.

According to The Gwinnett Daily Post, Mesteller’s attorney, Chris McClurg, will argue the case in front of the Georgia Supreme Court Monday. This is an appeal to a Superior Court judgment on the issue that went against Mesteller in September. Mesteller contends that a fee, as in the case of solid waste collection, is not a tax and should not be added to a tax bill.

In the summer of 2011, the courts ruled that the county has the authority to contract with private companies to provide trash serves and to charge the fees on the property tax bill and collect the fees as far in advance as is reasonably necessary. Both Mesteller and Gilliam filed the lawsuit after Gwinnett County awarded contracts to five private residential haulers awarded contracts on July 16, 2010. Gilliam's unsuccessful lawsuit was particulary related to his escrow account and the impact of the trash plan on that account. At the time, however, the county said escrow accounts were taken into account.

The county’s trash plan, which went into effect July 1, 2010, billed residents for trash pick-up on their property tax bills, collecting the first payment for 18 months in advance. According to the GDP story, McClurg said the plan is illegal and unconstitutional. Cited as examples of this is the fact that the county can put a lien on the property of someone who doesn't pay for the trash service, which is essentially a private not government arrangement. Another issue in contention for Mesteller is the fact that the government collects interest on the money it bills up front.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, who represents Snellville and parts of Loganville, said on his Facebook page on Sunday that regardless of the outcome of this latest litigation, he doesn't think it is good policy to include non-tax fees on an ad valorem property tax bill.

"Cities and counties that practice this billing scheme have the authority to correct this assault on your private property today," Harrell wrote, adding, "I plan to re-introduce HB 291 next Session to prevent this practice legislatively. Taxes and only taxes should appear on your property tax bill."

Sportsfan November 05, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Brett Harrell November 05, 2012 at 11:00 AM
The attached link to an Adobe PDF file includes a three page memo on HB 291, legislation that would prohibit billing non-tax fees on property tax bills, that provides an update on the bill (1 pg), a listing of several issues created by the billing practice (1 pg), and the bill itself (1 pg). Should you wish to contact me on this or any other state matter please email Brett@VoteHarrell.com or my cell is 404-966-5804. https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B68OBvsLwHdEVFNuSHdYOUpxTjg
Sharon Swanepoel November 05, 2012 at 11:04 AM
If HB 291 is passed, what impact would it have, if any, on this legislation in Gwinnett County already passed and in place? Would it be grandfathered in or would the county have to find another way to bill for sanitation?
Brett Harrell November 05, 2012 at 11:26 AM
It is my intent that no city or county currently using property tax bills as a vehicle for collecting non-tax fees be grandfathered. Approximately 40 counties currently use property tax bills for this purpose - collecting a dozen or more different non-tax fees. The Association of County Commissioners suggests the number of counties and the number of fees will only increase in the future. I have reviewed individual property tax bills where as much as 40% of the total due is NOT property taxes.
Sharon Swanepoel November 05, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Thank you for the info. A bill to watch! That does seem like a slippery slope. An example of what can happen once that door is opened.


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