Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24, 2010 Morristown Sends Bill for New $10/Month Garbage Fee To Some City Residents But Not To Others

I asked a simple question at the Morristown City Council meeting on November 16.

Short Question: Are some city residents paying the garbage fee while other city residents are not?

Short Answer: Yes. 

My question and City Administrator Tony Cox's response were not reported in the "news"paper, but two days later Bob Moore had a front page article trying to provide cover for the fact that the City of Morristown is charging the new $10/month garbage fee to some city residents but not to others.

After this came out on November 16, Moore talked to Asst. City Administrator Buddy Fielder. Fielder apparently said that the city's billing system is 95% complete and added that the City is resolving all MUS-related bills before addressing billing difficulties in the Alpha-Talbott, Witt, and Russellville-Whitesburg  utility districts.

For some reason, Moore didn't describe the billing difficulties that the City needs to address in AT, Witt, and RV-WB utility districts. Why?

As soon as Fielder said there were billing difficulties with AT, Witt, and RV-WB, a reporter would ask certain obvious questions especially for a front-page news article: What are the billing difficulties with AT, Witt, and RV-WB? What are you doing to address these difficulties? When will these difficulties be resolved?

But IF Moore had asked the obvious questions, then Fielder's statement about billing difficulties in the Alpha, Witt, or RV-WB utility districts would have unraveled. 

There are no current billing difficulties to address with the Alpha, Witt, and RV-WB utility districts. Alpha, Witt, and RV-WB have NOT sent a single bill for the city's garbage fee to city residents in their areas  because the City has NOT yet asked or authorized them to add the city's garbage fee to water bills of city residents.

Moore, in my opinion, wrote the article solely or primarily to allow the City to provide front-page "spin" for its actions in billing some residents and not others. To make sure that the City had free rein to "spin" its response, Moore adopted a new journalism standard that could be described as "don't ask (the obvious questions) and don't tell (what's really going on)."  Just front-page governmental "spin."

What we have is the City directing MUS to jump in and add the $10/month garbage fee to water bills for city residents in September 2010, but the City did NOT and still has NOT (as of November 16) directed or authorized AT, Witt, or RV-WB to add the $10/month garbage fee to water bills for city residents in September or in October or in November. Why start billing some but not others?

Assistant City Administrator Buddy Fielder said that City residents who weren't billed for September, October, and November won't be charged for past service. "Those were issues on our part, not on their part....I don't think it makes sense to do that."

As a matter of fairness, Fielder is probably right that the City should not go back and try to collect past garbage fees from city residents who didn't receive a garbage fee on their utility bill because of the city's "issues."  Especially when the "issue" in this whole thing is that the City didn't even try to bill city residents served by AT, Witt, or RV-WB.

But what do Fielder and City Administrator Tony Cox and Mayor Barile and City Councilmembers think about the flip-side of this mess? What about those city residents who did receive a bill and who did pay the $10/month garbage fee for a service that others didn't pay for? What's fair for them? 

Just looking at what's fair and addressing some potential legal problems in this "charge some/don't charge others" situation, the City should stop billing the garbage fee to city residents served by MUS until the city residents served by Alpha, Witt, and RV-WB utility districts have been billed an equal number of months.

After all city residents served by Alpha, Witt, RV-WB utilities have been billed for the same number of months that MUS customers have already been billed for, then billing of city customers thru MUS would resume. 

Sadly, this post is about proper billing of a new garbage fee instead of the fee itself.  The new garbage fee is the city's poster child for years and years of financial mismanagement and an almost total lack of accountability.

The new garbage fee is nothing more than a way for the Mayor and City Council to take more money from the citizens and use that money for pet projects--like brick pavers on city roads--while providing financial cover for the problems brought about by years of financial mismanagement, sweetheart deals, and illegal money switcheroos.  

It's not rocket science. Mayor Sami Barile and City Council wanted more of "other people's money" so they decided to make city residents start paying a separate and new "fee" for garbage pick-up, a service which used to be provided thru property taxes and other city revenues.

[The only person to vote against the new $10/month garbage fee was Councilman Gene Brooks.]

Of course, making the taxpayers shoulder the financial burden created by the Mayor and City Council's years of financial mismanagement, neglect, and lack of accountability is nothing new.

Let's tax increase in 2007, sales tax increase in 2008, red light cameras, sewer increases almost every year, and now a new garbage fee!  Next year?

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