Past due accounts weigh down Rockdale's storm water utility

CONYERS -- Collection of bad debt was called into question by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners as the county's stormwater fund presented a $2.2 million 2012 budget that carries a significant amount of uncollected billing.

The proposed 2012 stormwater budget is up from last year by $180,151, with revenue matching expenditures. Last year, the stormwater utility took in $2.025 million but spent only $1.037 million. The proposed budget was presented during the BOC work session Tuesday. The commissioners will vote on the first reading of the budget at their next meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Dan Rothwell, Rockdale County's stormwater engineer, said his office is seeking to hire a three-person work crew just for stormwater projects. He explained having the added personnel would make the stormwater utility more efficient because it will not have to depend on contracted work crews from the county's Department of Transportation.

"Since they are down to one maintenance crew now their priorities are with the Department of Transportation," Rothwell said. "I understand that completely, but we are acquiring a surplus in our maintenance log that we feel we need to attend to."

Rothwell said if approved, the new crew can work on small and medium-sized stormwater projects the whole year rather than with contracted work crews, who will work for about seven months as funding allows.

He said the in-house stormwater crew could also be available to the county for emergencies such as weather events where the crew can help clear debris from roads.

The request translates to a $411,827 increase in stormwater's personal services and benefits expenditures from 2011.

The budget also includes $250,000 for work on the stormwater utility's master plan. That expenditure along with $400,000 in contracted projects prompted the commissioners to ask about revenue.

Asked by Commissioner JaNice Van Ness about collecting unpaid stormwater bills, which account for 19 percent of expenditures, the third largest behind salaries and professional services, Rothwell said "We're working on that."

"Here's my point. I don't know how we're going to pay $250,000 for a master plan when we can't even get our finances in order yet," Van Ness said.

Rothwell said his office was considering using a collection agency and pursuing collections through the county's Magistrate Court.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said this was discussed last year with an awareness campaign to explain to residents the importance and purpose of the stormwater utility. He noted the county's previous community affairs director was brought into discussions, but nothing was done.

"There's such a different attitude out there about paying that fee," Nesbitt said. "We were hoping for that particular group that some strategic plan would be put in place or major suggestion to us and the citizens with some type of campaign to collect some of those funds that are lingering out there because folks are not paying their stormwater fee, which has a big impact on what we're here talking about."

Rothwell said the stormwater advisory committee last year recommended using a collection agency "as the least difficult thing to do for a staff of six." Using the Magistrate Court would require hiring a person to keep track of that, he said.

"The majority of people are paying and we have about 8.5 percent who we are not collecting, and like RWR we're running somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000 that we're not collecting." Rothwell said. He said there are 160 entities that represent more than $700,000 in total uncollected funds.

Rothwell said his office has begun sending out reminder letters to past due accounts and that he would prefer hiring a collection agency.

Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden said using a collection agency was not his preferred method of collecting. He there is no force behind the current billing system that would punish those who do not pay.

Oden noted other counties collect a higher percentage of stormwater fees by putting them on the county's property tax bill. Rothwell noted the city of Conyers collects its stormwater fees on its property tax bills.

"We have not been successful in convincing the tax commissioner to put this on the tax bill," Oden said.

Last year, Rockdale County Tax Commissioner Dan Ray declined to add stormwater fees to the tax bills. He said then the issue is a "forced-collection problem" and not a billing problem. He believed then his office would not have much better luck collecting stormwater fees than what was being done by the utility's efforts.

Ray advised the BOC that if they wanted to put stormwater fees on property tax bills, that the county needed to pursue state legislation to allow counties to use tax liens to collect stormwater fees.

Comments

ConyersCitizen33years says...

Kudos to Dan Ray for not putting these Past Due amounts on Tax Bills. There is a reason that so many are refusing to pay: No entity in Rockdale County has the authority to impose this TAX (aka: Stormwater Fee). What are you going to do, cut off our storm water because we haven't paid your fake bill?!!! It's not a utility and we do not utilize any service. We're not paying. period.

Posted 23 February 2012, 9:39 p.m. Suggest removal

wonderwhy says...

No one from the county has ever made an open explanation as to the necessity of the Stormwater Fee. It has a face of being nothing more than an additional tax to subsidize the county budget on something that has been handled in a way by Public Works in the past.

I feel as if it is unfair and a crock as nothing is ever done to the storm drainage system to keep it clean. Retention ponds are mandated but never kept sightly; all over grtown in weeds and now weed-trees.

I have a corner lot which I maintain, the county doesn't. It has become a matter of principle. The amount of uncollected does not represent a number that would maintain work crews and it appears as if nothing more is doen by this department other than have possion of a few nice new Ford Explorers to ride around in.

The BOC needs to get a hold of this department if it is going to exist and fire all of them and start over. Raise the property tax and get a department head that has the intestinal fortitude to run one efficiently.

Posted 24 February 2012, 6:52 a.m. Suggest removal

maryinga says...

Why didn't they charge these big home builders for this so called tax.....I for one didn't ask them to come here and build up communities, sell them, and now they are empty. Once again we as tax payers are getting the screw.

Posted 24 February 2012, 11:32 a.m. Suggest removal

heresyafacts says...

"Last year, the stormwater utility took in $2.025 million but spent only $1.037 million." So this year they need to spend $2.2 million? They need to spend money on increases in "personal services and benefits expenditures" -- which means what, exactly? Big raises? Promotions? And I thought they had a master plan, already. What have they been operating with all these years? No plan? Why wasn't there a master plan the first year, before they started hiring all the additional engineers and whatnot? Where has all the money been going all this time, if they're only just now looking to "hire a three-person work crew just for stormwater projects"? You mean there weren't already people working "just for stormwater projects"? Well, who's been doing the projects all this time? Have there actually been any real projects done? (I guess not, if they've been sitting around without a "master plan" to tell them what to do...) Is there any real oversight of this department? Or any department in Rockdale?

Posted 24 February 2012, 12:16 p.m. Suggest removal

heresyafacts says...

And another thing...if you're the "stormwater engineer," why isn't work on a master plan part of your job description? Why do we need an additional $250k to work on that?

Posted 24 February 2012, 12:20 p.m. Suggest removal

Frizzlefry says...

Hell, I'll think up a "master plan" for half that 250K!

Posted 24 February 2012, 6:24 p.m. Suggest removal

ConyersGal says...

This is a perfect investigation for the county's Grand Jury. I have never truly understood what this "fee" is that we are billed for every year. No one comes to take care of the storm drains in our neighborhood. What exactly is my family paying for? And, we're talking about $2+ million dollars with a quarter million needed for a "plan"??? Please Grand Jury, look into this situation which stinks more than the leaf-plugged storm drain at the end of our street.

Posted 24 February 2012, 6:37 p.m. Suggest removal

buck says...

I was at the meeting and I was actually embarrassed for the gentleman who presented this. They are clueless and really just wasting taxpayer free money!

Posted 25 February 2012, 1:14 a.m. Suggest removal

Taxationwithoutrepresentation says...

I call this taxation without representation! Just another "tax" for gov to waste more of our money....I live in an HOA. We have our own well water system that we pay to maintain included in with our dues, septic systems, private lake (that we maintain) that captures rainwater runoff (I also capture runoff from my roof for property watering of gardens) We even pave our own roads! The county does not even clean out our ditches and this department wants to spent money to pay someone to pick up trash??? Come on get real. This is a load of crap. I refuse to pay this tax until I know the real reason behind it. The county/state cannot fairly charge me a tax on God's rainfall. This county does not have to treat my water supply in any way.

Posted 25 February 2012, 6:21 a.m. Suggest removal

Carole says...

I'm glad someone who obviously lives in the same area that I do, finally spoke up..I have been fighting this problem for years now..I can understand the city needing this stormwater runoff because of the way the city is laid out, but not us rural folks! I was told that if my property was ditched on 3 sides that I didn't qualify to pay this bill; my property is ditched on 3 sides and runoff goes directly into the lake as it is supposed to do! Somehow they forgot what they originally told me.Thanks.....

Posted 28 February 2012, 1:57 a.m. Suggest removal

thescot says...

it appears that the RWR is like the rest of the county: the folks in charge don't have what it takes to do the job. The numbers reported in the paper don't add up. If they are going to stop contracting, that money should be a savings, but it wasn't treated as such. And does anyone know what the RWR would actually receiv by using a collection agency? Pennies on the dollar so they can save the hassle. Another Rockdale snafu on Oden's watch!

Posted 25 February 2012, 8:21 a.m. Suggest removal

sjsdb says...

Stormwater utility does not fall under RWR. It NEVER has. Please make sure you know your facts before making comments and insuations.

Posted 26 February 2012, 11:19 p.m. Suggest removal

techvet says...

I wonder how exact the county's count of "past due" notices is. Last year I received a second bill for my "storm water utility" fee which I had already paid via online payment through my bank. I contacted the storm water utility office and asked why I was being billed again when I had paid the bill within 30 days of receipt. The county rep asked that I get proof that I had paid so I went online and found my monthly bank statement that showed the payment had been made six months earlier and then sent it to the county rep. A few days later I received a call from the county rep saying there had been an error made by an employee where all online payments received on a specific date had not been recorded as paid by an office employee. So has the storm water utility office reviewed all of their payments for the period of time they are trying to collect late payments for to confirm that there were no other errors made in marking receipt of payments?

Posted 25 February 2012, 9:43 a.m. Suggest removal

ARockdaleCitizen says...

I have lived in Rockdale County all my life, born and raised. I have never seen Rockdale County like this, it's bad, real bad. And now we have them trying to take monies from us that we should not have to pay. We need to fire the BOC, and start over. Stormwater utility fee, what is this. I have not seen anything that money is going to. By the way all of the BOC what are your saleries? Just get out of Rockdale County you do not belong here.

Posted 26 February 2012, 12:45 a.m. Suggest removal

AJK says...

"By the way all of the BOC what are your saleries?"
Chairman Richard Oden, $103,376, Commissioners Oz Nesbitt, $23,856, and JaNice Van Ness, $23,856.

Dan Rothwell, Stormwater Engineer, $71,999

For more information about county employee salaries, visit [bocwatch.org][1].

[1]: http://bocwatch.org/viewtopic.php?f=5...

Posted 26 February 2012, 9:36 a.m. Suggest removal

heypastorbob says...

Someone PLEASE explain to me how the county can collect this "TAX" when other counties around us don't collect it from their citizens. I asked for a reassessment of my storm water retention when this farce all started. At that time someone came to my house the day before Thanksgiving, while we were away, and said the county assessment stands. I have sent photos before, during, and after all types of rain fall to show that I shouldn't be paying any "TAX" for water that piles up in my yard! All of my neighbors storm water run off lands in my yard. I retain their water days after the rain stops. I need to send the county a bill for charing me a tax for my yard being a retention pond. If more citizens would stop paying this "TAX" then maybe we would get their attention. And don't give me this garbage that this is being imposed by the Fed. Then why don't other people in other states pay. I have family members in several states that have never heard of this.

Posted 27 February 2012, 8:51 a.m. Suggest removal

CowboyRT says...

Typical government entity in typical government form. Their goal is always to maximize how much money they can transfer from our hands into theirs. Someone in some "said" county comes up with a unique idea like a storm water fee. It gets immediate attention in other counties because they see they have a new tool to rip money out of our pockets. Now they have the nerve to talk collection agency?? You're already that. You're collecting a "tax" disguised as a fee that the citizens of this county never voted on and approved. I tell everyone I can tell not to pay it. If enough citizens paid attention here and not just talk the talk, but talk with your votes, watch how fast they back track from this.

None of these people have the ability to take a frugal approach to governing. You see they have to take our monies and get going with the action verbs and show that they have done something. To show that, there is always a need to get as close to every penny as possible from the citizens as they can. Just because other counties do it and somehow get away with that fake fee, it doesn't mean it's going to work here in Rockdale. So go ahead and get your collection agency and try your scheme in the court system and I'll be there to fight. If I lose, I will appeal and I'm sure others will too. Eventually you will see you're tying up resources and losing more than you will gain. When election time comes around, good luck. I'm from a small town, Edgefield, SC, and my grandmother told me it's "ALWAYS" the few that makes the difference.

Posted 21 August 2012, 7:58 p.m. Suggest removal

1ayk says...

Liberal leadership, don't you love it?

Posted 21 August 2012, 9:25 p.m. Suggest removal