City catching up at landfill

Columbus is taking a load off its backlog of landfill collections.

News that the city may have lost millions in revenue in the years 1996-2006 as landfill fees went uncollected caused a big stir during a city budget crisis two years ago, prompting city administrators to employ new measures to improve collections.

City Finance Director Pam Hodge said Tuesday that the city now has a balance of $253,000 in landfill fees still to be collected, with $59,000 of that in the current billing cycle, covering charges from the past 60-90 days. She said $82,000 is in overdue charges which customers have agreed to pay off gradually in payment plans arranged with the city, and $112,000 has been referred to a collection agency the city hired.

As the city sorted out its collections backlog, it initially had $478,000 in overdue fees that customers agreed to pay in installments, Hodge said. Since then $396,000 of that has been paid. A big chunk of it — more than $200,000 — was owed by the local waste-collection company Sandman Inc., and was paid up after Milwaukee, Wis.-based Veolia ES Solid Waste, part of Veolia Environmental Services North America, purchased Sandman earlier this year.

Hodge said about a dozen companies still are paying off the remaining $82,000 on payment plans.

Regular customers are billed for dumping at city landfills, where their trucks are weighed going in and weighed again coming out, and they pay a per-ton charge for the difference. The city sends bills for about $40,000 a month, Hodge said. Customers who get 120 days or more behind on their payments now are cut off from using city landfills, Hodge said, but that hasn't happened for several months now. After the collections backlog came to light in August 2006, the city made companies with accounts provide lists of their trucks and drivers so the city could track who was authorized to dump on behalf of each business. The city also sends customers copies of individual dump tickets, noting each time a truck came through, to help companies keep up with their accounts.

One of the issues with the city's previous collection process was that tickets sometimes had illegible signatures, leading to disputes over which charges a customer owed.