10 years of trash bills... at once

May 20, 2009 4:22:52 PM PDT
Homeowners in Chester are getting big bills in the mail from their city government.Secelemon Coleman, 87, is one of the people who got the bill. It says she owes $1691 in trash collection fees and fines dating back to 1999.

"It upsets me to no end," Coleman said.

Coleman and her daughter call the trash bill rubbish. They say she paid the $120 annual garbage collection fees in her property tax payment plan made in Media.

The bills come together.

"They're under the assumption that trash fee is bieng taken out by folks in Media when it's not. So it is a fee owed to the city," said Mayor Wendell Butler of Chester.

Officials say Ms. Coleman is one of 4,000 Chester property owners sent letters citing a decade worth of delinquent trash collection fees.

During that time, the city says its computer system couldn't track delinquent trash bills until a state funded $80,000 upgrade last year.

So, they say they knew of the uncollected $3 million dollar debt, but couldn't afford to deal with it.

"We did not have the money to retrofit it and did not have the money for a third party to act as collection agent," said Deputy Mayor Willie Wells of Chester.

"So, 10 years later, a bill shows up with interest fees late charges? Hold up," said Secelemon's daughter Thomasine.

State representative Thaddeus Kirkland's office has been swamped with calls from seniors on fixed incomes urging the city to dismiss the back bills.

He suggests using some of the $10 million Harrah's casino gives the city annually.

"Quite frankly I think this is something the city should eat. They shouldn't tax people like this," Kirkland said.

City officials say they understand the potential harship, but must collect the money.

They do say they'll accept payment plans, that they're working on an amnesty plan to eliminate interest fees, and that seniors with less than $15,000 in income qualify for an exemption.

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