Monday, August 17, 2009

City still waiting on homeowners to pay new fees

City still waiting on homeowners to pay new fees

City still waiting on homeowners to pay new fees
Residents with overdue or late solid waste and stormwater bills will get notices soon.

Jacksonville is waiting on thousands of property owners to pay at least $24 million in new stormwater and solid waste bills and late payments, city officials said.

This year, the city has collected 61 percent of its expected stormwater bills, for a total of $20.8 million, and 60 percent of its solid waste bills, totaling $7.8 million, according to city spokeswoman Kristen Beach.

Late payment notices will be mailed out in October, Beach said.

At a time when the city is facing a major budget shortfall, 287,562 bills have been issued for a total of $53.2 million. That amount includes past-due amounts and late fees.

Likely slowing down the payments is the number of people with questions about the fees or who have applied for exemptions or adjustments.

From May 25 to Friday, the city's hotline - (904) 630-CITY - received 19,728 inquiries about fees. Jacksonville has received 2,180 applications, affecting 4,940 parcels, for credits, adjustments or exemptions.

The city has charged for only a year and half of fees so far - just two bills, one in 2008 and one in 2009. But the city is now considering taking legal action to collect delinquent fees, including placing non-foreclosable liens on properties.

"We certainly plan to pursue those options," Beach said.

The next step is for the city to evaluate the makeup of its delinquent accounts, whether residential or commercial, and then discuss how much it would cost for the various collection methods compared to what the city might expect to collect.

The City Council approved the fees in 2008 to soften the blow from state property tax reform and bring in extra revenue. The solid waste fees help pay for a portion of garbage collection costs, while the stormwater fees now completely fund the city's stormwater management system.

Solid waste services cost the city $14 per residence per month, but the fee is $4.25 per month on average.

The funds generated by these fees cannot be used for other services.

Minus the stormwater money, the city won't have as much money to help pay for inspectors and capital projects to help meet certain environmental requirements for the St. Johns River.

"Our collection of the fee will directly impact our ability to make the improvements needed, both from a flood-control and water quality standpoint," Beach said., (904) 359-4247

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