Itawamba County Supervisors have voted to absolve a lien on a resident’s property due to an unpaid garbage bill, despite state laws that prevent them from doing just that.
During their Feb. 3 meeting, the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors voted to absolve a $1,200 lien against property owned by Bobby Patterson because of unpaid garbage bills. Prior to the board meeting, Patterson met with Bo Russell, attorney for the county’s board of supervisors, and Garbage Bill Hearing Officer Amy Lentz to petition the pair to forgive the unpaid bills and remove the lien.
Patterson had recently been denied the purchase of his tag due to the debt. Mississippi Code of 1972 – Section 19-5-22 (1) states the fees for solid waste pickup are assessed jointly and severally against the generator of the garbage and against the owner of the property. If the bill is unpaid, it then becomes a lien against the property and the county tax collector will withhold a vehicle tag until the bill is paid.
Russell brought the matter before the board. He said Patterson’s situation was different than similar situations supervisors have addressed in the past.
According to Russell, the structure on the property in question had no running water or sewer. The resident, who Patterson was allowing to stay on the property free-of-charge, “stayed in one room of the house with only a pot belly heater and one light.”
Patterson, who purchased the property in 1994, claimed no garbage was ever picked up at the home because no garbage was generated by the occupant. Patterson told the board the occupant, who was living in the house when Patterson purchased it, suffered from a form of facial cancer and his caregiver (his mother) had died. The occupant’s condition left him reclusive, and Patterson said he walked to a nearby family member’s home for meals. After Patterson purchased the property, the man told Patterson he was concerned he would make him leave.
“I felt like it was my duty to let him live there,” Patterson told the board. “He did not know he was being charged for garbage. If I had known, I would have discussed it with him.”
Patterson allowed the man to remain in the home until his death in 2005. He never paid rent and only resided there as an “act of kindness” on the owner’s behalf.
Patterson told the board he was not looking for sympathy, and he would abide by their decision.
“I think I did what I should have done. He had been living there a long time,” Patterson said. “My concern now is if I don’t get this taken care of, the debt will pass on to my children.”
Russell warned the board should they vote to forgive the bill and be audited by the state, the supervisors who voted in favor would liable and responsible for paying the debt themselves.
“This is a sympathetic situation,” Russell said. “I’m telling you what the law says. You as a board must make a motion, a factual determination, that no garbage was picked up.”
Board President Eric “Tiny” Hughes said the board had held other residents responsible for debts they did not incur themselves, including in situations where garbage had not been picked up.
“We are bound by these laws,” Hughes said. “It’s not something we choose; it’s just the way it is.”
Hughes also asked if the board were to vote to absolve the lien, would Three Rivers Planning and Development District, who oversees billing for Itawamba Solid Waste, honor their decision.
Russell told Hughes they would and added again the board was faced with a unique and sympathetic situation.
1st District Supervisor Donnie Wood told the board he believed Patterson had done the right thing by allowing the occupant to continue to live in the home. He followed his statement with a motion to forgive the debt.
2nd District Supervisor Ike Johnson second the motion. The board approved it unanimously.
This was just the latest in the local board’s ongoing fielding of concerns about the way state law ensures taxpayer-funded solid waste departments like Itawamba County’s collect fees. Delinquent garbage fines inevitably become liens on the property at which they were accrued, and Mississippi law requires the county to withhold the car tag of the resident of said property until the delinquent fee is paid.
In August, Russell and purchasing clerk Stephanie Wright began working with Garbage Billing Hearing Officer Amy Lentz to investigate and resolve issues with the county’s solid waste billing. Because Patterson’s case was unique, they brought the matter before the board of supervisors.