With about $20,000 in unpaid trash pick-up bills owed to the town, the problem is a large one, Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said this week.
Some of those debts go back many years, McCrory explained, and include those who move into town and disregard the section of the town code that requires them to sign up for garbage pick-up.
The town-operated garbage service serves about 178 customers, but records show there are 208 water customers.
“If they have water they should have sanitation,” McCrory said.
But even without paying for the service — which costs $11 monthly — city workers are still collecting all the garbage left curbside, and for good reason, McCrory explained.
“When you are in a low-income area, the one thing that you don’t want is some outbreak of a disease as a result of unsanitary conditions,” She said. “Looking at it that way we go ahead and pick it up.”
About three years ago the town did stop garbage pickup for those that were not paying, but the situation became unpleasant very quickly, McCrory said.
To help curb the loss of revenue, the town is considering hiring a part-time code enforcer to ensure those receiving garbage service are paying for it.
There are exceptions
Thanks to state law, not every resident is required to pay for garbage service. Those households whose sole source of income is Social Security benefits can apply for an exception with the town.
Those older than age 60 are eligible to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, and with 9.2 percent of the town’s 791 residents at or above that age, many may qualify for exemption. Applicants must re-apply for exemption with Town Hall each year.
About 20 residents are exempt from paying for their garbage service, McCrory said.
Three Town Council members are among those exempt from paying for garbage pickup.
O’Mildred Ball, 78, and Joe Cunningham, 77, have both applied, and been approved for, exemptions because their sole income is from Social Security benefits.
Councilman Freddie Striplin — currently employed full time — does not pay for the service, but that’s because he doesn’t use it, he said.
“I live on top of a big hill, and the truck’s not able to come up the hill to my house. They’ve never collected my garbage,” Striplin said. “I just take it wherever.”
Striplin’s exemption from the town’s mandatory requirement for residents to sign up for garbage collection drew an investigation from the Alabama Ethics Commission, McCrory said.
The Mayor said the commission investigated a complaint about Striplin’s exemption some time in the last six months, but couldn’t say exactly when.
“I understand that they didn’t find a problem with him not paying, because the garbage truck couldn’t go up the hill. In fact, they came themselves and drove up the hill. And that was before I knew about it,” McCrory said. “They didn’t find an issue with it.”
Julie Davis, the Ethics Commission’s general counsel secretary, said the commission could not comment on the existence of a complaint against McCrory.
“We can’t even confirm or deny that we’ve had a complaint, unless the commission has heard something and voted on it in public,” Davis said. The only time the public would hear about an investigation is when the commission found evidence substantiating a complaint as valid, she said.
McCrory said some residents have suffered job losses, and struggle just to keep their electricity and water bills paid. Garbage service is often the first thing left unpaid, she said, and she understands that.
“But you can’t just continuously allow your sanitation bill to go,” McCrory said.
Customers who do not make arrangements to pay their outstanding bills should expect to be contacted by an attorney representing the town, McCrory said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.