Thousands of rural Lafayette Parish residents could face fines, liens and lawsuits for not complying with a local law mandating trash service.
City-parish solid waste contractor Republic Services announced earlier this week that trash service would be suspended beginning Wednesday for the roughly 4,000 rural households with past-due trash bills that have received at least four notices.
City-parish officials say customers who don't take action to settle their bills could also face fines, property liens for the money owed, court injunctions ordering payment and, in the extreme, up to 30 days in jail.
The penalties are spelled out in an ordinance passed several years ago mandating that all residents secure trash service through the city-parish solid waste contractor, which is currently Republic Services.
City-Parish spokeswoman Cydra Wingerter said Republic will give city-parish government a list of all customers who have yet to pay their delinquent bills and those customers will receive one more notice.
"They will have 30 days to pay their bill before additional steps will be taken," Wingerter said.
She said the lack of payment is not only an issue for the trash contractor, the uncollected revenue puts a significant strain on the city-parish budget.
The roughly $25-per-month garbage fee includes a $3.50 charge used to support city-parish government's Environmental Quality division.
If the 4,000 customers were paying the monthly $3.50 fee, city-parish government would have another $168,000 a year extra now being used to subsidize Environmental Quality.
And the delinquent customers are only half the problem.
It's estimated an additional 4,000 households have never even signed up for trash service, according to figures from city-parish government.
All together, the lost revenue totals about $336,000.
The residents who never signed up for trash service are a concern, Wingerter said, but the decision was made to first address customers who signed up but then stopped paying.
"They are quite aware that they should be paying for trash service because they had it before, she said.
Residents who never signed up might not know about the requirement for trash service or how to get it, so more public outreach is needed, Wingerter said.
This is not the first time rural trash collection has been an issue in Lafayette Parish, and city-parish government and its past solid waste contractors have tried unsuccessfully for years to enforce the requirement that all households have service.
This issue is limited to unincorporated areas of the parish, because city of Lafayette residents pay for trash service as part of their bill from the city-owned Lafayette Utilities System.
In unincorporated areas of the parish, Republic bills residents directly.
The last major enforcement effort was in 2001 and came about a year after city-parish government instituted mandatory garbage pick-up in unincorporated areas.
At the time, notices were sent to more than 3,000 households for refusal to pay garbage bills, and though legal action was threatened, there was little follow through.
The issue has cropped up from time to time since then, often in the context of discussions about illegal dumping, because it is unclear what becomes of the garbage produced by households without trash service, considering Lafayette Parish has no public dump.
Wingerter said city-parish government is aware Republic's current move to suspend trash service might worsen illegal dumping and is considering targeted monitoring efforts.
"Certainly with people losing their curbside service, it becomes a greater concern and our sensitivity is heightened," she said.
Republic Services customers can pay their bill online at republicservices.com/pay-bill.