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Hall commissioners dump higher trash fee plan
Commissioners also block proposal to reopen countys satellite tag offices
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Hall County's elected leaders scrapped a plan to charge residents more for trash Thursday and blocked a proposal by Chairman Tom Oliver to reopen the county's satellite tag offices.

Both decisions came Thursday as the Board of Commissioners continues to search for ways to keep the government operating within its means following the adoption of a spending plan in late June that was $11.5 million smaller than the year before.

Though the spending plan went into effect July 1, the group is still seeking options for more revenues and less spending, but it doesn't always agree on the solutions.

Commissioners were united, however, on a move to change county trash services effective Oct. 9.

The decision means hours at the county landfill will decrease by two hours on Saturdays, closing at 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.

And the minimum fee charged to dump items at the Candler Road landfill will rise from $5 to $12.50 for items that weigh less than 250 pounds.

Residents will also have 10 fewer hours each week to take their household garbage to county compactor sites.

Thursday's vote means compactor sites will open on Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 a.m., closing at 6:30 p.m., and the sites will not open until 11 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Commissioners had originally discussed adding $12.50 to the $50 annual fee property owners pay to use the compactor sites.

Oliver made a motion Thursday to add the fee, but changed his vote after a brief discussion among commission members about other options for saving money in the county's solid waste division.

Specifically, Commissioner Craig Lutz said he wanted to see if there was a way for the county to save money on recycling services, which he said is losing money.

Commissioner Billy Powell said he would like to find ways to charge residents who lived in municipalities for using the compactor sites. Powell's comments followed those of resident Doug Aiken, who said residents of Hall's cities were finding ways to use the sites for free.

County staff will now look into how to charge those residents for their use of the sites.

"You can't let this go on," Aiken said. "It's not fair."

Oliver revised his motion calling for the $12.50 fee increase for residents, but said he'd revisit the issue in January.

But Oliver was alone on the board Thursday when he moved to reopen the county's satellite tag offices using money from the county's reserves.

The cost to reopen the offices would be about $244,000, Oliver said, and it would require finding a way to replenish the county's reserves next year.

Oliver proposed a future tax hike, amounting to what he said was an average of $3.60 for the owner of a $180,000 property, to pay for the change next year.

"If you have to drive to the city to get a tag. If you have to find a place to park. If you have to spend two hours (at the office), well the gas is going to cost more than if we had to raise your millage $3.60 a year on a $180,000 house," Oliver said.

"I think sometimes we tend to be penny wise and pound foolish."

But other commissioners, who voted against Oliver on the spending plan that shuttered the satellite tag offices, weren't eager to reverse their decision of two months ago.

They turned the focus of the discussion on Tax Commissioner Keith Echols who runs the tag office.

Gibbs said the decision to shutter the offices was Echols' decision, because Echols is an elected official.

The commission cut Echols' budget with a recommendation to close the tag offices, Gibbs said, but how to deal with the budget cuts was ultimately up to the tax commissioner.

"I was never elected to run the tax office," Gibbs said.

Lutz said there may be other options to make vehicle tag renewals easier for residents to do, despite the closures.

"I think that we need to have the ability to hear from the tax commissioner to find out what the tax commissioner best needs to fix the problem that he has," Lutz said. "I have not heard that reopening the offices is the answer ... if we start undoing things like this without taking the appropriate steps to ensure they're the right things to do, we'd end up doing quite a few things."

In other business Thursday, the commission voted to negotiate a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pay at least one corps employee to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for Glades Reservoir.

The statement will determine whether the county receives a permit to build the 80 million gallon per day reservoir just north of Lake Lanier.

Commissioners have agreed to pay up to $600,000 over two years for the help, which they say is far less than the cost and time it would take to hire independent consultants to complete the study for the reservoir.