An issue over what some consider excessive penalties could make its way to the Tennessee Attorney General.
State Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, said he will ask Attorney General Herbert Slatery to weigh in over a matter involving increased late fees.
“The only question is, is it excessive and is it constitutional?” Roberts said.
The situation stems from Hickman County. Property owner Terri Christie expected to pay a $90 solid waste fee. But she was so angry at what else she saw on her bill, she contacted the News 4 I-Team.
“Unless you guys shine a light on it, they’re going to continue to hose citizens of this county and it needs to be stopped,” said Christie, who lives in Bon Aqua.
Christie racked up more than $60 in late fees over the course of a month. She was charged $30 the first day after the deadline, then $1 per day after that.
“I want this to be undone,” Christie said.
An I-Team investigation found what happened to Christie can happen to you depending where you live.
Here’s how it happened in Hickman County. The Hickman County Commission voted in June to increase the late fees for solid waste bills. The Solid Waste Authority reported the county had racked up roughly $500,000 in outstanding payments.
Previously property owners paid a penalty amounting to $1.35, or 1.5 percent of the solid waste fee for the first overdue month. The new resolution sets the penalty to $30, or approximately 33 percent of the solid waste fee.
“I think it’s totally taking advantage of the property owners in the county,” said Sharon Cart.
Cart said she struggled to pay her $29 late fee because of her fixed income.
The resolution caps the total bill and penalties to $180 per year, but after that point, the county can put a lien on the property.
“The first thing that comes to you is you panic,” Cart said. “You’re doing your best to pay your bills anyway.”
So how high can county officials set late fees? There is no Hickman County ordinance governing excessive penalties, according to the Hickman County clerk.
The I-Team tried reaching the county attorney and every commissioner who signed the new resolution. The commissioner who did respond told the I-Team to contact the county attorney. We have yet to hear back.
After the I-Team arranged an interview with the solid waste director, the interview was canceled the next day by administrators.
“I was told by my superiors to give you a statement and make no comment,” said Marty Turbeville, the solid waste director.
The statement reads in part:In order to ensure efficient and uninterrupted services by our department, we recently passed measures to help collect unpaid annual solid waste fees. We will continue to assess and evaluate all policies and procedures and make changes as necessary to ensure the needs of all our citizens are met.Christie hopes those changes come soon because she said talking trash is getting expensive.
“I want them to rescind the resolution and repeal it completely,” Christie said.
State law does address solid waste fees, stating after 30 days, penalties and interests should be the same as delinquent property taxes. In Hickman County, that means 1.5 percent every month, according to the county trustee.
But the law applies to counties with fewer than 23,000 people. The latest census puts Hickman County’s population at 24,690 people.
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