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Solid waste fee should be removed

By Cynthia J. Edwards

The citizens of Southampton County need to read the message below which I presented to the Southampton County Board of Supervisors during the preliminary budget hearing at the March 23, 2021 meeting and contact their Board representative in support.

Just as I did last year, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the solid waste fee with you. When the fee was first put into place in 2012, the statement was made at the Board of Supervisors Meeting on May 23, 2012 by Supervisor [Dr. Alan] Edwards, (and I quote the statement from those minutes) “As our tipping fees go down, and they might go down by the time we get out of this contract in 2018, this fee will come down. This fee is going to be reviewed on a yearly basis in a public hearing in front of you folks. If our tipping fees come down, this $200.0 trash fee is going to come down in a like percentage.” Therefore, from this very statement, the citizens believed that the trash fee would come down or go away. But it has not.

Ironically, in the same minutes Supervisor [Glenn] Updike said (and I quote the statement from those minutes) “He said didn’t we get the message Monday night that people don’t want the $200.00 trash fee. He thinks it is unfair. He thinks if it goes on it will never come off … That is not coming off. I can promise you that.”

So, past Supervisor Updike appears to be right. The solid waste fee hasn’t dropped even though the tipping fee has continually dropped over the years. In 2012, the tipping fee was $145. In 2019 the tipping fee was $57.00. That is a drastic decrease of $88 in the tipping fee over an eight year period.

Yet, the solid waste fee hasn’t dropped one dime. The citizens are still paying $200 a year. Where has that savings gone? The average tons per month was 694 in 2013 and in 2020 the average monthly tons was 839. So, the tonnage has increased; but only by an average of 200 tons over a period of eight years. So, where has the savings gone when the citizens are still paying $200.00 a year?

When I asked this question last year during budget season, Mr. Michael Johnson answered that it went to build the reserve back up. Well, that is not what the board said they would do with the money when the tipping fees went down.

I have spoken with a large number of citizens in the county. All of the people that I discussed the solid waste fee with wanted the fee removed. If, and only if, additional funds were needed to cover the cost of transferring the solid waste from the dump site to the landfill, they had rather increase the personal property tax. People specified increasing the personal property tax rather than the real estate tax because the majority of the citizens own some personal property, whereas, not everyone owns real estate.

I realize that the personal property tax in Southampton County is currently one of the highest rates in the state of Virginia. However, that is because the county has over extended their capability of paying; so, the rate was increased to cover the cost of whatever spending was done. Federal taxes and state taxes are based on how much an individual earns and owns. Why should the solid waste fee be any different?

If anything needs to be added to the personal property to cover the solid waste, adding it to the personal property would mean the individual would be paying based on what he or she owns. So, just like federal and state taxes, the individual would be paying based on their ability to pay based on what they own. The addition to personal property shouldn’t be that much since the tipping fee has dropped tremendously. I know last year when I brought this up, some folks didn’t like this idea; however, it is the fairest way.

Those who buy the highest dollar vehicles pay the most sales tax, as well as, the highest personal property taxes. Obviously, you can afford it. I do not believe increasing the personal property tax is the best option. The best option would be to remove the fee. Again, where has the savings gone from the large decrease in the tipping fee? Well, it went to build the reserve back up, which is not what the board said they would do with the money when the tipping fees went down.

Also, consider the fact that there is the cost of sending out another billing because the solid waste fee is billed after the year ends instead of being included in with the current years billing for personal property or real estate. There is also the cost of paying a part time person to process the solid waste relief applications (roughly $15,000, likely much more). Out of 223 applications, we are only due to receive $4,700 dollars after the relief was given.

So, as you can see that means $39,900 of relief was given. This is a costly process. How much do we want to spend to collect a very small amount? The IT Department is also heavily burdened with abatements and other issues from the solid waste fee. Susan Wright, IT director, said she would be happy to give you more details on this matter. Looking at our records there is, also, at least one person who received 100% relief for 2019; but, this person has never paid a dime on a solid waste bill from 2012 through 2018. This doesn’t seem fair at all. There are multiple examples that show this fee is not fairly managed.

Additionally, there were delinquent solid waste fees for years 2012- 2015 that had to be written off as uncollectible due to the fact that they were not collected within the three-year time frame allowed per the attorney for the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia. If you refer back to the Treasurer’s Report I presented at the February 2020 board meeting, you will see that the Personal Property tax collection rate was 95.53% and the solid waste fee collection rate was at 85% – (a 10.53% difference). After adding the 2019 solid waste bills, the collection rate as of March 31, 2020 for personal property tax collection was 96.44% and the solid waste fee collection rate was 75.64% – (a 20.80 % difference). Discontinuing the solid waste fee and increasing the personal property tax rate by a small percentage (only if necessary, after the tipping fee has dropped dramatically since 2012), it would give us an additional two-year time frame to collect the personal property versus the solid Waste fee.

Please review the minutes of the May 23, 2012 meeting, as well as, the Nov. 26, 2012 minutes. It is time we do the right thing for the citizens of Southampton County. The Board needs to be as good as their word. The tipping fee has come down tremendously. It’s time for the Solid Waste Fee to be a thing of the past. Again, using the money to build the reserve back up was not what you said you would do when the tipping fees went down. You said you would drop the fee in accordance with the dropping of the tipping fee. The solid waste fee was added because the county wanted to spend money that it didn’t have. So, the solid waste fee was a way to come up with the needed funds. Well, you shouldn’t spend money that you don’t have. Do what you said you were going to do. I am certain that there are some areas in the budget that can be cut; so, that there is no need for the solid waste fee. Therefore, I’m asking on behalf of the citizens of Southampton County that you remove the solid waste fee.

Editor’s note: According to county data, Southampton collects roughly $1 million in solid waste fees annually. The total cost of the county’s solid waste program, including curbside pickup, SPSA’s tipping fees and the costs associated with the county’s 14 refuse centers, has dropped since 2012 but is still $1.4 million for 2021, meaning the solid waste fee isn’t covering all expenses or generating a surplus.

Cynthia Edwards is the treasurer of Southampton County. Contact her at cedwards@southamptoncounty.org.