MOULTRIE -- The county commission decided Thursday to continue to collect past due garbage taxes in the same controversial manner as it has been.

In January, the county closed a loophole by changing its code to hold property owners ultimately responsible for paying garbage taxes for dwellings on their properties, whether they owned the dwelling itself or not. The county had been doing this anyway without the law to back it up, and some property owners challenged the practice.

County Attorney Bill McCalley advised to the board to proceed collecting past dues until any challenges comes forth. At that time, rather than go to the costly expense of court, the county would write off the debt if the land owner can prove he did not own the home (usually a mobile home) located on his property.

"And I think that's what the court is going to tell us to do," McCalley said. "Under state law, every taxpayer has the right to request a refund if he thinks he's been overcharged."

Residential Compliance Supervisor Peter Reizman said McCalley's advice would open the flood gates.

"I can't sit here and give you the amount, but it's going to be a big check," Reizman said.

McCalley responded that property owners would be limited by a three-year statute of limitations on the right to challenge taxes.

"We are very lenient and very cooperative to help anybody determine if we have overcharged them," Commission Chairman Max Hancock said. "When we do, we make adjustments. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Time after time after time, we've done that,"

"We're doing everything we can to make it more comfortable or easier for citizens paying these past dues. A lot of the problem we're having is that it was never explained to them," Reizman said, adding that the tax concept is hard for some residents to swallow.

Overall, the amount of past dues is gradually coming down, he said.

Last year, the county collected $289,878 in past dues, well over the $196,669 it collected in 2002. So far collections in 2004 total $121,125.

Last year, the county began requiring relocation permits for mobile homes in the county. The board believes the permitting system will cut down on tenants skipping town without paying their garbage taxes.

The county also voted this week to bid out the disposal and collection of garbage.

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