During last week’s regular meeting of the Colusa City Council, Dan Shea, general manager for Recology Butte Colusa Counties, asked councilmen Dave Markss, Dave Womble, Tom Reische, and mayor Greg Ponciano to put tax liens on people’s properties for unpaid balances.
Recology was requesting, as per their amended franchise agreement with the city, that the council approve a list of tax liens on properties with delinquent accounts spanning from April 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018. The council split down the middle in a 2-2 decision – Reische and Ponciano for, Womble and Marks against – and the resolution to levy the assessment failed.
Before the vote, Shea, who has been the general manager at Recology Butte Colusa since August 2017, said that between the City of Colusa and City of Williams, he has written off nearly $500,000 in bad, unpaid debt – a result of people not paying for their trash service. Under an amendment to the city’s franchise agreement with Recology, approved by the city council in 2014, Recology appointed the city as one of its collection services, with the ability to lien delinquent accounts.
“We are required to continue service whether people pay their bills or not, and so we need a mechanism in order to collect that money to adequately fund and pay for the garbage service, to control bills for the people who do pay their bills,” Shea said. “I understand that landlords are unhappy, and unfortunately the bills prior to this were in the renters’ names, but at least the landlords have a mechanism to adjudicate an issue. They can include the garbage in their rent, they have security deposits, and they can evict people for not paying their rent – I don’t have any of those mechanisms available to me.”
Craig Schapp, speaking as a landlord and a member of the public, asked how property owners were supposed to know that the renters were behind, without getting a bill.
“So, my understanding is that the bills will now be in the owners’ names, as opposed to the renters’” Shea said, adding that previously, “whoever signed up for the services is where the bills went.”
Cain said that the city’s ordinance would to be changed to require property owners have accounts with Recology set up in their names. While landowners are responsible for providing trash services under the city code, Cain said it was not required that landowners have the bills in their names.
Councilman Markss questioned how – if a tenant signed up for the services and didn’t pay – that liability was then transferred to the property owner. He said that it wasn’t fair that a landlord should be punished “for the misdeeds of their tenant,” and that voted against approving the lien list for that reason.
“I’m looking at Section 10.1 of the (Franchise) Agreement, and it talks about the contractor – which is you – shall send a letter to any customer, and it continues to refer to customer,” Markss said. “Not the landlord, not the property owner, but the customer. If I have a rental, and my renter calls Recology, they’re the customer. Am I right?”
Shea said that the issue was with a conflict in the city’s ordinance.
“It is in (the renter’s) name, but (the landlord) is responsible – it’s a mandatory service,” Shea said. “I’m not an expert on California law. This is a very standard thing, and I’m sure your city attorney knows more about it than I do.”
City Attorney Ryan Jones said that Shea was “accurate in the sense that this is the typical mechanism that is done.”
“I’ve seen this in other municipalities, and they’re the arm trying to collect the bad debt,” Jones said, before adding that the city should, at some point, amend their ordinance to mandate trash service must be set up in the property owner’s name.
“That way, we know you can’t have a tenant who tries to engage with the city on it – because they can just walk away and saddle their property owner with that,” Jones said. “But I think once we’ve fixed that, it should address the biggest issue of making sure the property owner is fully advised, and they’d be the only one that can start that service.”
It appears that the City Code is already set up to do just that, however. Section 14-2 of Colusa’s City Code states that “Every property owner shall subscribe with an authorized refuse collector for the collection and disposal of solid and green waste…” That section of the code was added by Ordinance 445, passed by the council on Feb. 17, 2009. That ordinance came about when the city of Colusa first entered into a franchise agreement with NorCal Waste Systems, Inc. – Recology’s former name prior to April 2009.